Ballet class in Paris: I dare you

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The dare, of course, was to me, thrown out by me. And once the thought had been floated out there, I sensed I had to do it.

You know how these things go: the bold idea that might prove to be too bold, and there are equal parts anticipation and dread in your gut at the thought of it. The idea grows; you can almost visualize it. The seed has germinated, it’s … well, doing whatever seeds do. Dividing, subdividing, taking on life, roots, shifting, making everything shift to make room for it, and it will only go away when you follow up and take that ballet class in Paris. Even if you are an adventure coward, like myself. Perhaps especially if you are an adventure coward.

Researching these days is a no-brainer. You Google anything you want and voilà, you have answers waiting, just beneath your fingertips. My first information about taking a ballet class in Paris came from a guest-poster at Adult Beginner, a blog I like to visit anyway, so how great was that? She chronicles her experiences here:

I found a few more shared experiences online and suggestions from discussion forums. Armed with this knowledge, I decided on the Centre de Dance du Marais. Once in Paris, I went to scope out the studio, which is located in the Marais district, on the Rue du Temple. The building is gorgeous, old, historic. From the street you enter a passageway that spills into a courtyard, which holds a café, as well.

Paris Dance (1 of 7)-1

Most of the studios are on the second level. To my right, on the ground floor, was the reception office. I went inside, studied the class schedule, asked all sorts of annoying questions to the man at the reception desk. (How intermediate is intermediate? Yes, but will it be… too much for me? Can you elaborate further? Because there is “advanced beginner” intermediate and there’s “one step down from advanced” intermediate. Will it be scary for me? What if it’s scary and I’ll regret the choice I made and feel bad for wasting my one Centre de Dance du Marais class opportunity? So are you sure this is my best bet? And can you explain again how I’ll know which studio my class will be located in? And will the class be… difficult?) He informed me I would pay the teacher directly. There would be no need for me to check in at reception on the afternoon of the class. I could [leave him alone and] proceed directly to the room.

Monday arrived and I was nervous as hell. Idiotic, really. I speak fluent French and I’ve taken ballet classes for years and years. But there you have it. Outside that old comfort zone. I gave myself plenty of time to get there, arriving plenty early for the 3:30pm class. Inside the courtyard area, the posted list of the day’s classes showed that mine would be in “Beethoven.” (All the rooms are named after composers, for whatever reason.) Another sign pointed in the same upward direction for the “vestiere,” or changing room. I took the grand old staircase to the studio level, and another increasingly smaller, narrower staircase to the top level.

There, in the vestiere, I received a jolt: the changing room was co-ed. There were no men there changing, but at any time, one might walk in. The woman who’d informed me of this seemed surprised by my unease. “Among dancers, you know, it’s not a big thing,” she said with a shrug. It’s true; I remember the intimacy from my performing days, the physicality of it, the scanty attire on warm rehearsal days, the flat chests of many of the females, the sexual inclination of many of the men, rendering us all sort of neutered. Truthfully, I’m okay with nudity. But really, a unisex changing room? Hadn’t seen that one coming.

After dressing (very, very quickly), I descended to the studio level. Another class in Beethoven was finishing up. Outside the room, there were other students waiting, stretching and chatting. In English. One of my fears was eased. At least there would be fellow English speakers in there.


At 3:33pm the doors opened, other students left, we went in. The studio was well-lit with natural light, big windows along two lengths of the long, narrow room. I went to the front to pay the teacher and introduce myself and discovered there was a substitute today. English-speaking. American, in fact. I explained that while I wasn’t a beginner, I’ve taken some intermediate classes that have proven too difficult (chronicled here: She confirmed that this class was more along the lines of advanced beginner to intermediate. Whew. And that the class would be taught in English. More whew. …Or maybe not.

Yes, an instant relaxing of my tense muscles and mind. But then, the inkling of disappointment, that grew during class. Listening to English direction was no challenge. It turned out that almost all the students were English-speaking, from various parts of the world, and that this class was regularly taught, by default, in English. And complicating the substitute situation was the fact that the sub was training a student to teach, a young Australian woman in her twenties. It was she who taught the class.

It was starting to feel disappointingly commonplace, like just another class in the U.S.. Except for the ceilings. The beamed ceilings were original and astonishing. Painted curlicues, scrolls, designs   that looked like a violin, or perhaps the image of a face in the center? (Hard to file away impressions at the same time you’re watching the teacher demonstrate the next steps.) Golds, blues, a rich red color. There were some metal braces in a few spots, holding the beams in place, which are always a dead giveaway that you’re looking at the real deal. The building dates from the early 1600’s, this beamed ceiling around 1640. To be in this room, knowing this, glancing up at this, made the experience 100% Parisian.

Barre was traditional and reassuring, although some of the combinations felt lengthy and overly creative, like little adagios. I wasn’t sure if this was a product of the trainee’s own experience or if it were a reflection of the regular teacher’s class, or a Paris class in general. At 18 euros (close to $25) and my family to spend vacation with, sadly, I wouldn’t be taking a second class to find out.

As would be expected, center work followed barre. The adagio work, however, seemed more advanced than intermediate. It was a lot of choreography. A lot. With counter-intuitive combinations and progressions. Or was it only counter-intuitive for me and my California studio-grown habits? Maybe this was typical of Paris classes. I sensed the confusion  and consternation from the dancers behind me, though, some of whom were at the beginner to advanced-beginner level. I felt their pain; this was no advanced-beginner adagio.

One flaw I found in the otherwise beautiful room was the way it ran deep. Windows along the length of the room meant the mirror was in the front, on the smaller wall. We arranged ourselves in three rows of three. Had there been fifteen students, we might have crowded in there five rows deep, or risked bumping into one another. In my regular class back home, the teacher will have us switch lines after doing the combination once, so that each row has a chance to be in front. But that was the other strange thing. We only did the adagio once before moving on to a second combination. That one, it seemed we did only on one side, commencing on the right side and never the left. (In retrospect, perhaps it employed the left side within the combination.) I remember thinking, wait, we’re moving on to the next combination already? And an instant later thinking, good. The choreography had been too tricky to retain.

We ended with grand allegro runs across the floor, an easier “tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté”, and it was a wonderful way to end—joyous, exhilarating, bringing a smile to every last student’s face. Grand allegro, in my mind, is the dessert, the crème brulée of class. It’s the reward for training for the previous eighty minutes. It’s where it’s all about the joy of movement. We were a close-knit group by then, the nine of us, a tribe, Those Who Love Dance, and it’s a delight, the way dance transcends geography, culture, language. We were dancers; that’s the language we spoke, and those last ten minutes our bodies sang.

I got a heck of a workout in. When you’re in an unfamiliar class, your body can’t do anything by rote. You give not your usual 110% but even more. My muscles were trembling and I had that depleted-but-buoyant feeling that is so delicious.

I’d done it. Stepped out of my comfort zone and taken a ballet class in Paris.

Paris Dance (2 of 7)

© 2014 Terez Rose

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PS: You can find more details about how to take a ballet class in Paris over at Dance Advantage, in a how-to article I wrote for them:

PPS: Check out this wonderful, wonderful photo I just found, on the blog She Wanted to Dance. It’s of the ceiling I was so mesmerized by, and tried so hard to explain:

PPPS: Ooh, I’ve struck further gold. Here is an actual class in Paris, intermediate level, judging by the students, but hoo boy, does the instructor, Evelyne Cohen, teach a complicated adagio in the center. Really, it’s like a little ballet. Ridiculously long, with a huge amount of time devoted to learning it and not just being allowed to dance it. So maybe this is indeed a Paris ballet class thing, and my own experience had been spot-on. With the exception of the English being spoken. When I saw this Youtube clip, I was utterly mesmerized, but, gotta say, had I been there, I would have been nervous the whole class. I very much picked the right ballet class to take in person, and the right one to watch on Youtube. (I am not certain where in Paris this studio is. If anyone knows, I’d love for you to share the info in the comment section!)


Ballet Class taught by Evelyne Cohen, filmed by Leslie Jean Porter


27 thoughts on “Ballet class in Paris: I dare you”

    • Rachael, omigosh, it took me long enough to finally chronicle the experience, didn’t it?! Glad you got the chance to read, and as always, thanks for the comment!

  1. What a fantastic experience! I would have been a nervous wreck but it would’ve been so worth it! Love the painted ceiling, the fact you were in a building that was hundreds of years old. Only in Europe.

    I would have been a bit disappointed too that you didn’t have a French instructor–esp since you’re fluent in French–would’ve added to the cultural experience. The class in the video looks difficult, but it almost seemed relaxing at the same time, if that makes any sense. At least, that’s the perception of someone like me who’s never done ballet.

    So glad you did it! Thanks for sharing!

    • Tara, yup. I don’t so much mind that the class was in English, as that, apparently, would have been the case anyway, but that I didn’t get to have the regular French teacher as my instructor will always feel like a disappointment. Ah well. A relatively small disappointment, and it sure eased my nerves, during the class, that it felt rather familiar. And in regards to the instructor in the embedded Youtube video, what made me think “whew!” was not the lovely choreography (yes, I can see your “relaxing” impression) but that it kept coming and coming and coming. Usually an adagio is maybe 64 counts and you repeat it on the left side. I’d swear that adagio was 4 or 5x that amount. That’s a pretty heavy order for a 90 minute ballet class! You spend all the time learning and trying to keep it in your head, and none of the time just having fun with it. But I’m just slow at picking up combinations (which is why I will never take an advanced class ever again in my life). Maybe some people loved the complexity of the adagio.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Good for you to step out of your comfort zone and trying the class.

    I passed up the chance to take a class in Philly, I guess, because of the nervous feeling of dropping in on a class when I’m out of town.

    Loved how descriptive you were of the class. And grande allegro is my favorite part of class for much the same reason.

    • Loved your comments, Dancescribe, and always fun to hear someone else likes the same part of the class (and for the same reason). Well, I can certainly appreciate the nervous feeling of dropping in on a class in a strange city. How odd that was, the lure to do it, combined with the reluctance, in Paris. Glad I did it. Glad I didn’t have to go and re-do it. ; )

  3. Pingback: How to Take a Dance Class in Paris | Dance Advantage
  4. When my family (my wife & I and our two then-early-adolescent daughters) was in Paris back in early summer 2001, we took many classes over a period of seven weeks at the Centre de danse du Marais, mostly from a teacher named Frédéric Lazzarelli. These classes were in French, which was extremely amusing since many ballet words that are uninflected in English are of course just ordinary words in French (i.e., instead of just “tendu” you also hear “tendez”, and so on). I don’t know what the others in the classes thought of the strange family from California on vacation in France who took class together several days per week, but we had a blast.

    • Greg, that is such a cool story! I see the aforementioned teacher on the schedule quite a bit – I wish, in retrospect, I’d tried to catch a class of his. Love your comment on how they don’t just say “tendu” but “tendez.” That’s such a fun tidbit of information – makes perfect sense, but, like you said, strange to our English-speaking ears. (Well, ears listen, they don’t speak, but you know what I mean.)

      Thanks so much for stopping by to share this. Loved reading it.

  5. ‘Ballet class in Paris’ is a metaphor for all that might be uncomfortable and you did it, you are fearless, bravo, Terez! We’ve recently alighted in Paris (from Los Angeles) and are teaching at the very same Centre de Danse du Marais. We call it JOY DANCE Workout – laugh sweat and be inspired – Terez next time you are in town, be our guest. You can learn more at Gotta dance!

  6. Jackie and Tom, oh, I don’t know which is more the shame – that I wasn’t able to catch you while you lived in CA (granted, it would have been a long commute for class) or that fact that you’re now in Paris and I’m not! I checked out your site and the clip and it looks like so much fun! And it’s great news for other readers, many of whom have contacted me personally to ask about the English-speaking thing while in Paris and the Centre de Danse du Marais.

    Do post the time you offer the class, so that other readers will know they have a “safe landing spot” in your class, there at the Centre. And you should tell any of the other instructors at the Centre du Danse to stop by here and announce their class time and affirm that “yes, I speak English, so don’t be afraid to come and try my class.”

    I hope your offer for me to be a guest in your class is a long-term offer. Three years from now, or whenever my next Paris trip will be, I’ll want to be there!

  7. I have taken advanced classes at the Centre de Danse on two separate Paris holidays, which were also in “Beethoven”. They were all in French, and the teacher was the wonderful Nicholas Noel, but sadly, I don’t see his name on the schedule any more. My husband and I are revisiting Paris once more in February, and are staying just around the corner, so I will be going back for more!

    • Robyn – staying just around the corner? Oooh, lucky you! Have fun, and promise that you’ll come to this post after your trip and report on the classes you took! And remember, now you know, from the response just before yours, that Jackie and Tom are instructors at the Centre de Danse, although it’s JOY DANCE workout and not advanced ballet. (I myself am pretty excited to have a live contact there at the Centre de Danse now, even though it will likely be years before I return.) My guess is that you’ll find a great fit with Ghislain de Compreignac’s 11am advanced class in Beethoven.

  8. Joy Dance Workout at the Centre du Marais is Mondays at 12:30. You can also try it on Sundays from 12 noon – 1 P.M. at Studio Magenia, 16 Rue St. Marc, Paris 2ème (Metro: Grands Boulevards). This is not your regular dance class – it’s wildly fun – like a dance workout for actors because it is so playful! Sweat, laugh, and be alive in Paris – what more could you want?

    Check out Joy Dance Workout on YouTube:

    • Oh, I am SO wanting to be in Paris right now! I have a hunch our next flat-rental while we’re in Paris is going to be in Le Marais….

  9. Hi, I’m a beginner-intermediate (probably closer to beginner!) adult dancer from the U.S. who will be traveling to Paris for 2 weeks. Your post was most helpful and informative, and has convinced me to give a Paris class a try, so thank you very much!

    One question: what kind of attire would you recommend? I mainly just wear yoga leggings, a form-fitting tank top, and ballet slippers with leg warmers to my usual class, but are the classes here more formal (leotards, tights, perfect bun, etc)?

    • Hi Vanessa,

      Ooh, wonderful! I think you’ll feel perfectly comfortable wearing what you normally do, certainly in the class I attended. No, perfect buns aren’t necessary. (I find, in truth, that less than half the dancers in adult ballet classes wear their hair in buns.) I think I wore a leotard and black tights, and then had a pair of dance “shorts” that I did barre with, and then switched out the shorts with a skirt. (That’s my little vanity; I love wearing those short little chiffon black skirts.) It seems to me there was a wide variety of attire in the class. Which is great; no one, really, stood out.

      Hope you have a ball! Come back here afterward and share a report with us! Lots of readers, I know, are enjoying hearing about readers’ different experiences.

      • Thank you so much for your reply! I’m excited (but also nervous)! I will be sure to report back on my experiences! I was also looking into the beginner-intermediate class but have almost no French knowledge other than ballet, so we’ll see how that goes! 🙂

        • Just wanted to report back after my first class in Paris! It went very well! I took a beginning-intermediate class (debutante-moyen). I’ve only been dancing 3 years with NO previous experience as a child and I didn’t find it too difficult — possibly even a little under-challenging compared to my classes back home. I was okay with this, mainly because I wasn’t sure how I was going to do with the language barrier.

          There were about 6 people in the class, most of whom were about ages 35-60? At 32, I was possibly the youngest in the class, though I don’t know that this is typical.

          Though I had no French language experience other than ballet, I had absolutely no trouble following along, even when she came to give corrections. I communicated mostly with smiles and nodding. I basically just knew the words for left and right (gauche and droit, respectively) and everything else translated just fine with “ballet French.” In fact, the teacher had no idea I didn’t speak French until I went to pay her after class, which was very encouraging!

          All in all, I’m not the boldest person, but I definitely had no trouble and would highly encourage anyone to drop in and try it! I also agree with getting there at least 15-20 minutes early to allow for finding the right room (earlier if you have to change). Also, my teacher cost 20€, not 18 like on the website.

          • Vanessa, ooh, I just gobbled up your post here. Thank you SO much for sharing! I know a lot of people are going to love (and feel encouraged) by what you wrote here. It’s so charming that your teacher didn’t know you didn’t speak French until the end of class. That should be a great comfort to those going in, w/o any French knowledge. Sure we all know French – we know ballet words! Great thing for me to remind any ballet peep headed to that studio.

            Loved hearing your experience – thank you so much for sharing! And please, enjoy a “real” French croissant for me. The “croissant au beurre” kind. (They’re extra buttery and extra bad for you – yum!) Oh, and enjoy Paris!!!

  10. I absolutely LOVED this article about taking ballet class in Paris! I, too, took class at Centre de Danse du Marais–in 2008, in 2012, and in 2015. My first trip to Paris in 2008 was a gift to myself for completing graduate school at the age of 42. I had studied French for years and it had always my dream to one day travel there–but I never expected to take ballet in Paris!

    I decided to take ballet while in Paris because at the time, I had recently started back with ballet classes after a 30-year hiatus. I wanted really feel like I was living in Paris. That meant renting an apartment for the month that I would be visiting, grocery shopping; everything “d’habitude”–including taking ballet classes.

    Below, I am posting my journal entry of when I took class there for the first time in 2008 with Monsieur Lazzarelli.

    “I’m taking ballet three days a week at the Centre de Danse du Marais–I had an interesting first day during my during first week in Paris:

    I arrived early, and initially, it seemed that it would be a small class.

    However, soon quite a few students showed up, there were even three men in my class–one guy resembled Justin Timberlake! The class is really diverse and of all ages over 18. The teacher is really nice and hilarious and seemed pleased that a student from the US wanted to take classes with him.

    The class was Debutant 1 & 2 (Beginner), but those students seemed to have danced their whole lives! Thank goodness I started back taking ballet almost a year ago, so I was able to keep up.

    When I returned to the dressing room, I discovered that the dressing room is UNISEX! Two of the men (including ‘Justin’) were seated in their underwear, and the women were very nonchalantly removing their leotards and getting into their street clothes.

    I turn around, and this guy who must have been coming in for the next class, strolls in, removes EVERYTHING, and puts on his tights!

    I discreetly picked my jaw off the floor and got dressed–you know I tend to wear my street clothes over my leotards so I only had to put my jeans back on.

    More info about my ballet class: I wound up taking one and a half ballet classes last Saturday: I couldn’t remember why I had plans to take the 6pm class, so I arrived for the 2pm class.

    I thought I would be prepared for the dressing room, but upon entering, there were guys as usual, sitting in their underwear, two partially nude women (boobs hanging out) and somebody’s 5-year-old child. Just as I sat down, I hear a voice saying, “Bonjour Bébé!”

    It’s my ballet teacher! He was seated on a bench in the dressing room, amongst the half-nude students. He has given me a pet name, as he thought I was very young when I first came there and requested to start taking classes. I was mortified that people actually undress in front of their teacher!

    The teacher informed me that the class “may be a little difficult, but try anyway”. Turns out this was the ADVANCED class; this was why I had planned on going at 6pm instead of 2pm but had forgotten. I was able to manage the barre work, but for the center, the teacher told me to watch. For the center, many students wore pointes. And I’m amazed at the number of women forty and older who are so healthy and fit, dancing on pointe.” [End journal entry]

    I really enjoyed taking class with Monsieur Lazzarelli and I took class with him again during my subsequent visits to Paris in 2012 and 2015. The studio is absolutely beautiful, with the gorgeous beams on the ceiling and windows facing the courtyard.

    Oh! And there’s another teacher whom I’ve taken class with at Centre de Danse du Marais–Monsieur Casati. M. Casati is a formidable instructor, strict in demeanor and tone of voice–and very opinionated!

    During one particular class while going over a combination, he casually mentioned that “English speakers are unable to say the word ‘tu'”. I wasn’t sure if I had heard him correctly (since he speaks only French), and I gave askance to a classmate who had befriended me. She smiled and whispered, “Not you! Tu parles bien français!” {You speak French well!}

    After class, despite my fear of M. Casati’s strict demeanor, I approached him and said, “Sir, I can properly say the formal version of ‘you’ in French.” M. Casati smirked at me and demanded, “Dites ‘tu’!” {Say ‘tu’!}

    “Tu, Monsieur!”, I repeated (rather proudly, I might add). M. Casati gave me a genuine smile and replied, “Très bien!” {Very good!}

    My next trip to Paris is planned for 2018 and “Bébé” certainly plans to take ballet classes with M. Lazzarelli (and M. Casati) again!

    • Tobi-Velicia, your post was so DELICIOUS to read! I’m just laughing at your reaction to the unisex changing room; it brings back the memory of my own reaction just perfectly. Sounds like your classes were much more crowded than mine (I only saw 3 other people in the dressing room – none in much undress, fortunately!). And kudos to you for not running out of there when you showed up for the advanced class. That would have been so much fun to sit and watch the rest of the class after barre (without the terror of being expected to do the combinations yourself!). Thank you so, so much for posting this. It’s like I went back there, in my mind, just now.

  11. Sorry that this is late – but I really need advice! I’m 13, almost 14, and going to Paris over winter break. My ballet teacher heard that I was going to Paris and suggested taking a ballet class there – but I basically don’t speak a word of French (apart from the ballet steps, of course 🙂 ). Would you have any tips for how to navigate without being able to speak French? In addition, in your opinion, would the class be suitable for a young teen?

    Joy xoxo

    • Hi Joy – it’s NEVER too late to contribute to this blog conversation. Great question, and first of all, have fun in Paris over winter break! Boy, am I jealous. Paris with holiday lights up is magical on top of magical (but potentially cold – don’t make the mistake I did one year and bring light shoes designed for California temps. Brr! Actually had to buy warmer shoes while I was there.)

      I think you’ll be absolutely fine without speaking French, because it seems like the place attracts an international community. I would suggest you take the very class I took. (A Tuesday class with Ghislain de Compreignac teaching – maybe Debutant/Adv Beginning.) The class was conducted in English because there were a half-dozen nationalities represented, and English was the default language. But I’ve heard other people comment that, in taking one of the other classes, even though they didn’t speak a word of French, they just explained that to the teacher before class started, and the teacher was able to communicated everything fully. We ballet dancers are so lucky – a ronde de jamb is going to be called a ronde de jamb anywhere in the world. All those ballet terms English speakers use in class will be the same terms the French use. Learn to say “Parlez vous Anglais?” and “Pardon, je ne parle pas français,” and really, if you just blurt out a few words in French, like that, the French become so very kind about your situation. And know the name of this place – and it’s well-known – and if you were, for any reason, to get lost, you could just keep repeating the name of it to people near the location, and they’ll help you get there. Even just “La danse” says what you are looking for.

      Above all, draw a deep breath and do it instead of backing down (trust me, I’m talking about myself here – I was so stupidly nervous to go), because it’s an amazing, amazing experience (the ceiling in the Beethoven room is incredible) and once you’ve done it, you’ll have the memory of that experience for life. But I would go to the Centre de Danse du Marais a few days before, so you know what to expect. And tell them you want to pay for 1 class (“Je veux payer pour une classe”) They have something called a “passport” and I think it’s multiple classes. It got me all muddled. And I think I remember paying the teacher directly.

      And it seems to me that any advanced beginning or beginning class would work for a young teen. Maybe even the more advanced classes. Here’s a link I found that might be of help to you: “Debutant” is beginner. “Moyenne” is probably like advanced beginner. Ghislain de Compreignac (sp?) is the teacher who teaches an advanced beginning and speaks English – aim for that. Someone else here shared that they really liked Frederic Lazzarelli. (sp?)

      Have fun! And please do report back here, because everyone loves hearing the scoop on up to date ballet classes in Paris, and yikes, it’s been a few years, now, since I’ve been there. Time to return!


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