Capital, my dear!

My job recently required that I travel to the nation’s capital for a conference. It was great… except for the actual conference. If it weren’t for that minor detail I could’ve explored museums & monuments to my heart’s content, lolled about on my king-sized bed while gorging on HGTV (I haven’t had cable in years, but I do miss me some House Hunters something fierce), and generally pretended to be glamorous. Of course, if it weren’t for the conference I would have had to pay for the trip myself and therefore probably would have never gone. So…

As a result of this conference I had to miss company class, one of the ballet classes I take, and the class that I teach. Ack… missing dance classes + eating way more food (in 3 days) than I would normally consume in a week = bad. Enter Google! Where I discovered a school of ballet with an ample selection of open adult classes within reasonable commuting distance from the hotel. So one of the nights I ventured out to attend an Intermediate class.

Challenge 1: getting there. Made easier by the fact that there was a bus that went pretty much directly door to door from my hotel to the ballet school. Hooray! Now to figure out how to get home since the same bus didn’t seem to have a return trip!

Challenge 2: attempting to not feel royally intimidated by the mass of lithe, willowy bunheads exiting the doors as I was entering. Attempted to look self-assured as though I had been there a million times and belonged there, dammit. I had arrived about half an hour before class started which, on the one hand, gave me time to settle my nerves knowing that I had managed to not (yet) get myself lost in a strange city and that I had not (yet) been called a poser and chased out of the school with a pitchfork. But also gave me time to observe my fellow students enter the school and gush hellos at one another and occasionally glance over at me, the stranger sitting on the bench. Clearly they were all regulars. Repeats silently to self, IbelonghereIbelonghereIbelonghere. As the crowd in the hallway/lobby grows I see the instructor wandering through (I recognized him from the picture on the school’s website) assuring people that he’s working on kicking out the people rehearsing in our assigned studio so we can start class on time. He stops when he comes to me and says, “Aha, you’re new!” and introduces himself. I tell him I’m there on business, just dropped in to take a class. He asks where I have traveled from. I tell him: [State Name]. Ah, well then. He asks me how long I am there for (leaving the next day) and says that in that case I should be sure to check the website for the class schedule next time I’m in town. Then he continues on his way chatting with more regulars.

Feeling a little more assured that my presence is welcome. The people who were rehearsing exit and we shuffle in. I’m impressed. Now this is a studio. Large, airy, high ceilings, a piano in the corner, seating on the side. I haven’t been in a studio like this in years. Barres are brought out. There are probably about 25-30 people in class. Way bigger than anything I take/teach. And, wow, there are even some dudes in this class.

Challenge 3: We start barre and I immediately feel lost. Taking ballet at a new studio is kind of like traveling to another English-speaking country… you may be speaking the same language, but with the accent and the regional slang you’re not always sure what the other person is saying to you. But I follow along as best I can hoping that I’ve positioned myself so that I can see a few of the regulars who are used to this instructor’s methods. It’s a bit of a mess. But I manage.

One thing I notice is the instructor’s focus on musicality. Some instructors use music as an accompaniment to the dance. Others use dance to express what the music is trying to say. As a musician, I prefer the latter. That being said, I haven’t danced like that in a while and I found myself focusing on the steps instead of the dance. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. During one barre exercise the accompanist tried to assist us by making a pause in the music more dramatic to draw our attention to the musical phrasing our teacher requested. “No, never mind!” the instructor yelled over to the accompanist. “They’re not paying attention to the music anyway!” He gives us another lecture on the musical phrasing and we try side 2. I try to get both the steps and the phrasing down this time. I do not see the instructor and suddenly am startled by his voice yelling, “Yes, [State Name]!” Hoorah. I have earned praise from a stranger teacher. If nothing else, I have accomplished something on this adventure.

We move on to center. I feel wobbly. Ungraceful. The steps feel unfamiliar even though I do the same ones every week. But I keep going. Who cares if I embarrass myself, I think, I’m never going to see any of these people again!

Class ends, I hurry to get dressed and get outside to catch a different bus to take me to the subway. Later, while I was waiting for the subway to show up, I grinned to myself. It certainly wasn’t one of my better performances. The instructor probably wondered what the heck they are teaching for ballet in podunk [State]. But hey, I made it there, I endured. I felt pretty sure that if I lived locally and took class on a more regular basis that I could hold my own within a few weeks of learning this guy’s style.

Back at the hotel I order myself some room service. Something I don’t recall ever doing, but hey, I’m living large as a Woman Traveling on Business. And I just did ballet in a strange city. Some things are worth rewarding.


2 thoughts on “Capital, my dear!

  1. John Martin says:

    You go girl! I’m proud of you for taking on a challenge like that. I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to do the same. Definitely not dance anyway!

  2. Very reassuring to hear that even people who teach are eager to perform well for a teacher!
    I have a travel theory: you own a city when you’ve done laundry there, as laundry-doing indicates a large amount of time spent, with more time ahead, not to mention getting to see the place from the un-touristy viewpoint of a fluff&fold, involving logistics of coins, soap, what to do while the dryer runs.
    Now adding Taking a Ballet Class to the list of ways to own a strange city.

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