I love the play “Le Miserable”, don’t you? The first time I experienced this play was when I was 20-something years old. My father in law took me and my husband to the play and since then it has been one of my favorite musicals.
So, I was kind of invited to attend a master’s class. It was held by a non-profit organization called Ballet in Cleveland, which its only purpose is to bring ballet back to Cleveland. Pretty cool, huh? Ballet in Cleveland was founded by the beautiful and talented, Jessica Wallis. Jessica and I have tried to get together to exchange stories, but our schedules have been unable to sync up. Anywho, Jessica invited me and Ms. Disney to go to a masters class that was being taught by professional ballerina Alison DeBona, who is also one of the dancers in the show Breaking Pointe. PRETTY COOL, HUH?!
The offer was wonderful, but I did not think I was able to attend. I had a 2 hour make up class on Sunday that I could not miss and I didn’t want to spend too much time away from the family. Well, my husband didn’t want me to miss the opportunity, so he made arrangements so I could go with Ms. Disney. Wasn’t that sweet of him?! Hey DOES love me! For those who are curious about my experience, here is my story.
I did not sleep well on Friday night; I was very excited. Well, more so nervous. I didn’t want to look like a buffoon and I had no idea what caliber of dancing was going to be present in the class. I picked Ms. Disney up and we anxiously traveled to the destination. Ms. Disney and I concluded that we would likely be doing a lot of barre exercises, which was fine with me. I like the barre and we never get to use it in class anymore! I was more nervous to dance in center. I know my ability to pick up combinations is slower than others and I didn’t want it to show. Regardless, I was ready for whatever.
We arrived at the studio and made our way inside and that is when it hit me – this is NO JOKE. THIS IS AN HONEST TO GOODNESS MASTER’S CLASS. The entryway was filled with young, thin, beautiful ballerina hopefuls waiting to sign in and take their place alongside their friends inside the studio. From the entryway you can see the dancers who have already signed in and paid their fee. No kidding – they looked like they were extras in a ballet movie. All of them warming up, stretching, adjusting. Their hair in perfect buns, their bodies perfectly toned and their faces as fresh as the morning dew. Do I sound dramatic? I apologize, but that is exactly what was laid out before me on that Saturday afternoon. I analyzed their movements in awe as I waited to sign in. I looked over to Ms. Disney and said with clenched teeth, “Let’s get out of here. This is insane. What did we get ourselves into. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” Ms. Disney whispered back, “You can do this. It’s OK. Just relax.” I cannot believe how calm she was. I was literally on the verge of having a panic attack and she might as well been waiting to get seated at an insurance seminar. Nothing was phasing her. I, on the other hand, was panicked for a number of reasons. One: I was probably the oldest student in there. Two: I was CLEARLY the least experienced and Three: There was apparently a dress code and I didn’t get the email. I was supposed to wear pink tights and a black leotard. I was wearing black tights and a black leotard. I did NOT want to bring anymore undue attention to myself. All I wanted to do was disappear in the background and be unnoticed the entire duration of the class. Clearly, that was not going to happen now.
We signed in, placed our belongings in the locker room and proceeded to the barre. Correction – the FAR end of the barre. So far that I was almost inside the curtain that was drapped at the end of the barre. I started to stretch. I can say one thing about myself, I have become pretty flexible over the course of the year. I can straddle stretch like no ones business, which was noticed by a lady who was observing the class that was seated to my left. As I splayed my body to the floor with my legs outstretched in opposite directions she said, “Ouch”. Ouch is right lady, Ouch is right.
Then she appeared. It was her – Alison DeBona. She was so tall, so thin and so very, elegant. I could feel my body tighten up. “What am I doing here? I am wasting her time. Please sweet, baby Jesus, don’t let her notice my suckiness. PLEASE! She then instructed some of the dancers to go into the basement and get chairs because there was not enough room at the barre for everyone to dance. I thought to myself, “I could be a good sport and offer to get chairs, but why in the hell do I want to do that?! This is no place to be a hero and if anyone needs to be stationed at the barre for extra assistance its ME.” I was still in the corner by this point and I had no intention on moving, no matter how squished I was.
After a few comments from Ms. DeBona, the class began. To make a long, long story short, the barre exercises were nothing less than MORTIFYING! Ms. DeBona did exercises from her company and the combinations were lengthy and challenging. Even the port de bras were difficult! I struggled to get through them, not only because they were intricate, but because I was squished at the end of the bar and had NO room to move. I was embarrassed. Ms. Disney did great. She has always had a knack for picking up combinations quickly. I probably would have done better if there was someone in front of me to watch when we did the exercises on the left. Every once in a while I would glance over to the girls stationed on my left side and see how they were faring. As expected, it was just another day in the office for them. Well, what I could see. I wondered – where they struggling to remember the combinations? Were their frappés less like a “frappé” and more like a “frapp-achino” like mine? I couldn’t tell from my vantage point and none of them were verbally displaying their frustration. Good Lord that is a real NO-NO in ballet world!
Then it was time to move in center. I was TERRIFIED! If I struggled at the barre lord knows what it was going to be like in center! Ms. DeBona divided the class into two groups and me and Ms. Disney were separated. To my dismay, my group went first. Boo. I had the deer in headlights look when she told us what exercise was first: grand battements. OH SWEET BABY JESUS I HOPE I DON’T FALL OVER. I was no stranger to this exercise, but I was still worried I would look like a fool. The piano started to play and away we went. I realized the student’s version and my studio’s version were different, but I quickly adjusted. Wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t do that bad! I kicked pretty high and my foot is always pointed. My feet have always been something I could be proud of. I never forget to point. Yeah me. And the other students? Well, they may be poised at the barre, but away they were are intimidated as I was. Grand battements seemed to have been challenging for everyone and that was the one thing I didn’t look too lost doing.
After that uplifting moment, it was smooth sailing from there. I felt more confident and willing to try. There was two highlighting moments: (1) I did a double pirouette to my left and I almost fell over. Not a shining moment, but it was nonetheless recognized by Ms. DeBona. She put her hand on my shoulder (yes, she touched me!) and said, “Let me help you, hold on.” Then she made a little announcement and made an “example” out of me. AHHHHHHHH! Scary, scary, scary. I am not going to lie. I said, “No, that’s ok. I don’t want to be an example.” She replied softly, “It’s ok. That’s why you are here.” …..I am here to learn. From a current, professional ballerina. The second professional (next to my current instructor) that has ever taught me. She wants to teach ME ballet…….I think I’m going to faint. She then told me to put my weight on my non-supporting leg before I did the pirouette. Holy son of a mongoose if that suggestion didn’t do the trick! HOOOORAAAAY! (BTW – she prefaced the suggestions with the comment, “You actually turn very well”……ME?! TURN WELL?!…heaven.)
2. The last combination we did included a glissade into (small) jette, (medium) jette, (BIG) JETTE, I was scared because I hadn’t leapt in months. I wasn’t sure how I was going to look, but I was going to do my best. Ms. DeBona instructed that we only do three jettes, but I noticed that all of the girls did four or more. The hell if I was going to do more than three! You ask for three and that is all you are getting. Me and Ms. Disney was one of the last to leap across the floor. Glissade, (small) jette, (medium) jette and (BIG) JETTE we went! As soon as the last jette was done we walked off the floor. As expected, Ms. Disney made it clear across the floor. Ms. DeBona said, “You see that?! She (Ms. Disney) made it across the floor. THEY (ME included) are working.”…..I was included in that statement. Ms. Disney may have cleared the floor, but for my stature, I was close behind. To be apart of that compliment felt…awesome!
What I learned. A couple of things.
(1) I have a lot to learn. As soon as you feel comfortable in ballet, you are challenged to be better. It is truly exhausting, but worth while. Why? Because you are never stagnant in ballet. Never, ever, ever. You are always learning and always improving. That is what makes the sport more interesting, fulfilling and challenging. That is what compels dancers to stay, and unfortunately, also drives some of them away.
(2) I am not as terrible as I thought. The girls in that class were AMAZING. However, I was strong and able to keep up in center. I thank the General for that. She has made us work in center since the fall and now I can hold my own without a barre. That made me felt like I belonged in that class. Even though that feeling was only slight.
(3) No matter where I stand or what I do, I am never going to be the woman who disappears in the background. I always stick out like a sore thumb. If it is not my long black hair, bright red lips or flashy shoes, it will be my mouth or attitude that gives me away. I can’t help it. No matter how insecure I feel, I cannot blend in. Do you know the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil?” I am oh so very, squeaky. Even when I don’t intend to be. My “squeak” is my defence mechanism. When I am my most insecure you can hear my “squeak” “squeak” “SQUEAK!” Blah. I hate that about me sometimes. Talk, talk, talk. Laugh, chuckle, joke. God, I wish I could be more serious sometimes. More elegant. To no avail, I cannot. Deep in my soul, I am a rough and tumble kind of girl. I squeak. (Damn it). The master’s class was no exception. The benefit – I got to talk to and learn from a “master” ballet dancer. Doesn’t sound so sucky now does it? That’s how I got into my current studio too – I squeaked. “I want to take ballet. Do you teach adults?” and later, “Oh yeah, I want to learn pointe. Is that possible?” The General gave me opportunities because of that squeak and I am forever grateful. Squeak, squeak, (squeak).
(4) I was NOT the oldest one in the class. There was a gentlemen who was in his early forties starting ballet as an adult like me! Yeah! We are not alone adult beginners, we are not alone.
(5) I cannot wait for the next masters class. I don’t care how hard it is, I am so proud that I was able to participate in such an event. I felt like a real ballerina for an hour and 1/2. I felt apart of something really incredible and I will never forget it. Jessica made it possible by extending her gracious hand to me and Ms. Disney. That was so nice. So very, very, nice. Now I anxiously await the next opportunity.
This one is going in the memory book. I know I will be telling the grand children about this event in years to come. So cool…..yeah. 🙂
PS – Ms. Disney is on the right (GREAT pic of her), Alison is in the middle (der) and I am the tiny little thing on the left. I love that shirt. I know – I’m so cool. HA