Bonjour Gentle Reader! Un guest post lé magnifique por vu! Oohlala!
A Canadian (Beginner) Ballerina in Paris
Two months prior to my French spring vacation I realized I booked my ticket on the opening night of my local company’s presentation of Swan Lake. To quell my disappointment I decided that I should attend the ballet while in Paris. Once my ticket was purchased I started thinking more and more about ballet in Paris and decided that I should try and find a drop-in class to attend. The only thing that could possibly be more exciting than finally starting ballet lessons at 30 is to attend a class in Paris!
Here is my adventure.
The day of my chosen class arrives. I’m excited, but nervous all day.
What if can’t understand what the teacher says? What if I’m wearing the wrong clothes? What if … what if … what if …
Thoughts of the time I accidentally ended up in the Advanced Class (i.e. danced with ex-professionals) instead of the beginner/level 1 class I intended to take permeate my soul.
Well, nothing can be as disastrous or as embarrassing as that experience. I might as well go. And I committed to writing a blog post about my experience. I can’t disappoint Adult Beginner.
I prepare myself in my hostel room, slip my shoes in my purse and walk to the Metro. I’m on the Metro, one stop away from where I need to be, and it powers down. There is some announcement in crackly subway speaker system quality. I don’t understand it. Some people get off, some people stay. I look at my watch.
I’m probably close enough I could get off and run there. But run to ballet? I’ll be exhausted before class even starts!
Power resumes. I find the studio: Centre International de Danse Jazz. I enter the doors and then have to walk down a long dark corridor. It feels kind of movie like. I find the reception.
Ugh, crap. How do you ask to take a drop-in ballet class in French?
After a bit of a struggle, I have my drop-in ticket and head upstairs. There is nothing fancy about this school. It is bare bones, a little rundown, with dark hallways, tattered carpet and ballerina sitting on the floor. This somehow makes me feel like a real ballerina.
Studio 2 is large. The dance floor is in the middle of the room; with the flooring on top of the cement/industrial carpet. This means there are ballerinas scattered along the edges of the room, stretching and warming up for the next class.
Uh oh! Some of these girls are really flexible. This can’t be the beginners’ class.
I summon all my French courage and ask the girl beside me if this was indeed the debutant class. She nods.
The previous class clears out, the portable and decidedly homemade barre is moved into the center of the room. I take a place along the barre that is secured to the wall, to avoid being in the center of attention. No one goes to the left of me, there was a tonne of room for additional beginner ballerinas, hopefully those who knew French, to surround me. Eventually a few join me. I know I shouldn’t be getting my cueing visually, but I know my French alone won’t get me through this class.
Droite. Gauche. Left, right? Or right, left? Ugh, I should have at least reviewed that much French. Fail.
I survey the class. It looks pretty much like my class at home: a diversity of ages, some stereotypical ballerina bodies, some ladies with their natural body and giant smiles on their face. Some are wearing the traditional black leo and pink tights, some are wearing colored leos and colored tights, some in leggings and t-shirts. I feel comfortable in my black leggings and black leo. I look in the mirror:
Ugh, all the croissants and macrons and baguettes are showing up already?!? Oh well, I’ll worry about that when I get back to Canada.
Madame starts explaining exercise number one, but very fast. I’m following enough to get what I’m supposed to do, but definitely not understanding all the detailed instructions.
Cue music. No piano today, but I can live with the sound system. It’s pretty nice.
And plié, and rise. Tendu …
20 seconds into the exercise and Madame is already making a beeline for me.
Sigh … it’s going to be a long 1.5 hours I think.
“Français. Français. Français. Français. Français.”
“Oh, you do not speak French?”
“Un petit peu.”
“Ok then.” And she starts to explain to me how my posture is completely wrong and pokes and pushes and realigns various body parts.
They mark the exercises very fast, and they don’t mark all directions. I realize that perhaps I’ve been spoiled and babied a little too much in my class back home, and that it’s time to get my brain working a little better. For now, I watch those around me a little more than I should. It just so happens I have a great view of the male ballet dancers, who are complete with ballet tights and ballet legs, I mean, who are very skilled beginner dancers and are easy to sneak a peak at for guidance when I can’t follow all the French.
Madame returns to me. Apparently I’m still not getting my posture right, she rips of her shirt so she can show me her exact alignment. She pulls and twists my arms into the perfect second position; muscles are activated that I didn’t know were to be used for second. She pokes them,
“Always use these muscles.”
At one point she explains to the rest of the class to ignore all her English whispers, she needs to help this new student. I smile and love all the attention. Surely this is the best 15 Euros I’ll spend the entire trip.
I kinda miss my air-conditioned studio. Is everyone else as hot as me?
We move into the center. I panic, having flashbacks to that advanced class I took. Center work is when your skill is put to the test (and on display). Things start off slowly and I breathe a giant sigh of relief. Everyone may be a bit better than me, but no professionals in this room.
Pirouette time. I execute. I get a nod of approval,
“Hm. That was pretty good.”
Pretty good, as in, pretty good? Or pretty good because you were expecting me to fall on my face? Doesn’t matter, it was pretty good, I know it was pretty good, it felt pretty good, and it was a pirouette in Paris, it had no choice but to be good, and Cathy Laymet, a well-recognized teacher in Paris just said it was pretty good. Ok, it was good.
Somewhere along the way my knee decides it has had enough. Relevé on the right foot becomes painful.
Dang you knee. I want to finish this class. I don’t care. I will even though it’s stupid. Suck it up. Maybe I shouldn’t have climbed the stairs on the Eiffel Tower this morning. Stop it, knee!
I push on, not caring that I still had 2 more weeks to be walking around the French countryside (after note: the knee turned out to be totally fine). Class extends well beyond its scheduled 1.5 hours. At the end Madame calls me and the other new girl over. She gives me her email address, list of her classes and invites, no, implores, me to come to her Barre au sol class, so she can work on my alignment and “fix my back”. I sadly explain that I am just a tourist passing through, and that I probably won’t be able to join her again before I leave. She takes me over to the barre and shows me some exercises I can to do work on my back:
“Your back is horrible. So stiff. You need to fix it.”
Do you know how much money I’ve spent on chiro, massage, yoga and pilates over the years to get it at least this flexible?
I thank her very much for the class and happily skip down the street back to the Metro station.
I danced in Paris.
Side Note: While I was in Paris, I, of course, went to the Musee d’Orsay to visit my Degas paintings. Yes, my paintings. I have worshipped all his ballerina paintings since I discovered my mom’s art history books when I was really young. Who hasn’t? Much to my surprise, there was a special Degas exhibit in addition to the permanent collection.
As I was transfixed by his bronze dancer sculptures I realized that they have voluptuous derrières in comparison to the rest of their bodies.
They must enjoy their croissants, cheese and baguettes too.