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: http://adultbeginner.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/a-canadian-beginner-ballerina-in-paris-by-zeelogan/
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.
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: https://www.theclassicalgirl.com/?p=259). 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.
© 2014 Terez Rose
Want to read more of my writing? OFF BALANCE, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, is available on Amazon, $4.99 for the electronic version and $10.99 for the paperback. Check it out here! http://amzn.com/B00WB224IQ
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: http://www.danceadvantage.net/2013/08/20/take-class-in-paris/
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: http://shewantedtodance.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/class-2-centre-de-danse-du-marais/#jp-carousel-101
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