A Canadian (Beginner) Ballerina in Paris, by @zeelogan

Bonjour Gentle Reader! Un guest post lé magnifique por vu! Oohlala!

A Canadian (Beginner) Ballerina in Paris

By @zeelogan

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.

Heaven.

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.

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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21 Responses to A Canadian (Beginner) Ballerina in Paris, by @zeelogan

  1. A Grandé Mercí to @zeelogan for this guest post!
    Does anyone else find it hilariously charming that a French beginners class is called a Debutante class?

  2. amy says:

    fantastic!!! I love it. Thank you.

  3. Awesome! To remember droite and gauche think about the English words that are similar to them and what they mean. Adoit is a good thing, gauche is a bad thing, and you know how people in ye goode olde days thought lefties were bad/wrong/evil/etc, right? I got myself through many French lessons this way :p

  4. jennifer says:

    i love this, thank you! I took my first class in Korea last year, it was quite the experience. More people speak English than you’d expect, I found out–to my relief.

  5. Andy says:

    Sounds like you had a great time, glad you got to do that!

  6. mariyahk says:

    Thank you for this nice post! It’s always great to hear other beginner’s stories. And it takes so much courage to go to a class in a foreign country.

    I had a look at the website of the studio… and one picture looked like on the Intro of a German series called “Anna Ballerina” from the 80s. I was only four when it was aired, so I didn’t really watch it, but I remember some scenes of it. So “Anna” must have been the first Ballerina I ever saw. Here is is on YouTube, you can see the studio right at the beginning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnC8FiHlklU&list=UUsipluEE2btAZkuwSgobP2g&index=12&feature=plcp

  7. Great post! I would LOVE to follow in your footsteps and also attend ballet in Paris some time. It sounds like you had the experience of a life time :)

  8. KikiNYC says:

    Thank you so much for posting! Funny because I was just thinking about taking a solo trip to Paris (been many times before but never alone) and thought taking ballet classes would be a good incentive– and maybe be a good way to meet people? Now I will definitely look for that class! I would love it if others could guest blog their european class experiences!

  9. Pingback: she danced in Paris; how awesome is that? i can’t even dance out of town | ballet, you say?

  10. Daria says:

    Hi! I came across completely by accident.

    I’m 29 and in Paris for the next 3 weeks. I speak only intermediate French, but feel comfortable enough with it to go around asking questions and speaking with natives.

    Feeling blue this evening, being alone in this city, I thought of going to a drop in class. I’ve done 4-5 yrs of ballroom training, some swing and tiny bit of salsa (so all partner dancing) in US when I was in my early-mid 20s. I have never taken ballet classes and, despite dancing for a few years, I am very inflexible. Always have been. I’m the one who is the least flexible in a yoga class, with men in the room included.

    I found Cathy Laymet’s class. It says beginner. What am I, if not beginner? A beginner who is very very unflexible. I’m really nervous and afraid of suffering a terrible blow to my already somewhat suffering self-esteem (I’ve been searching for a job for the last 2 months in my field after finishing my Msc and being unemployed, especially in expensive Europe, is no fun). Do you think I should go? Will she eat me up alive (because I can’t even touch the floor with my finger tips)? :) Just thought I’d ask since you went to her class as a beginner as well.

    • Hi Daria,

      Congratulations on the MSc! My sister is just finishing up hers, she was in Nantes, and is now interning for free in even more expensive Vienna. So I can understand the being unemployed in expensive Europe as I hear about it often. I was just dreaming about Paris, it was exactly a year ago I was there, and a friend of mine just headed to France yesterday for her belated honeymoon.

      When I went, I had only been dancing for 6 months, so super super beginner. It was definitely intimidating in the beginner because there was a wide range of “beginners” in the class – I definitely the most beginner in the class. For the first 15 minutes my brain was racing ‘omg, what have I gotten myself into?’, but then I realized, hey, I’m a total stranger here, might as well enjoy it, these people will likely never see my face again.
      Cathy seemed to enjoy having fresh blood in the class, and I got tons of one-on-one attention, which I thought was awesome, even though I realized I do everything wrong (according to her). After class she also offered extra help. So while she loves to give corrections, her goal is just to make sure you’re doing things right. Just make sure you grab a spot in the middle of the barre so there are people on both sides of you to watch to get the order of the movements. But … remember, at this stage in life, ballet is for our souls and not for comparing ourselves to everyone around us. If you feel like today you’re a ballerina, then you are.

      And if you’re intermediate French, then you are better off than I was. My French level is ‘cereal box’ – in Canada, everything is labeled in French and English, so I’m totally ok for shopping in a grocery store or ordering food, but conversations are difficult.

      I say go for it. I love being able to say that I took a ballet class in Paris, it just felt, so ‘movie-like’. And if class is horrible, well, pain aux chocolate and wine are both cheap, and you can indulge afterwards. :)

  11. Ken says:

    Thanks for sharing! Is this the studio’s website: http://www.paris-danse.com/ ? On a similar note, I recently started ballet about 6 months ago and had the opportunity to attend a drop-in class in Lima, Peru. The instructor was a former company ballerina and though Peru is not known for ballet, I was amazed by how adept the instructor was. Received a studio keychain as a gift from the instructor and as a reminder of my wonderful experience there.
    I am finalizing a trip to Amsterdam later this year and looking at perhaps taking a train to Paris for the weekend. If I were to attend an adult debutant class in Paris, would my lack of French prevent me from taking a class? I am an advanced Spanish speaker so perhaps I can communicate in Spanish? I hear the French are not receptive to Americans who speak only English, but welcome the Spanish who are nearby neighbors.

  12. Terez Mertes says:

    Omigosh, I loved reading this. I’m going to be in Paris shortly and was thinking of doing the same thing. Delighted to have found this guest-blog within a blogsite I already find delightful.

    Thanks for the great read – I’m thinking now that I really do need to attempt a ballet class there. This blog was a real inspiration.

  13. Sian says:

    Dear all, how lovely to read all your comments. I’ve been living in Paris for 18 months and go to classes at Stanlowa Institut. If anyone is ever around and wants to go to class just shout :) I attend classes from debutant to Moyen and love them. Heads up – debutant isn’t the very first level. Total beginners should go to the Technique de base class. x

  14. Pingback: Ballet class in Paris: I dare you | The Classical Girl

  15. I’m heading out on some grand adventures later this month. I already have my ticket to see Paquita in Denmark and am now seeing if any ballet classes fit into my travel schedule. Do you have any lovely readers who reside in or know of awesome drop-in classes in: Stavanger, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden or Copenhagen, Denmark?

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