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Ballet Class - a study in people


Anjuli_Bai
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Ballet class is not only a study of dance, but also a study of people who show up everyday in an attempt to have their bodies fulfill a mental image.  The daily class which I took at 9 a.m. was made up of company dancers, a few pre-professionals and a few who despite what the mirror reflected back to them, were never to be either but were able to keep up with the rest.

 

There was one man, however, who fit in none of the above.  He was on the high side of middle aged, tall, ungainly - with not one physical attribute normally associated with ballet.  Having inherited  great wealth (were I to name the company he owned you would know it), he came from a long line of "blue bloods," but chose to spend his mornings amongst us - the sweaty riff-raff. 

 

He entered the class room by going down the barre and kissing on the lips every woman - knowing that they hated it and thus it was his way of establishing dominance.  Well, every woman except me - I always very definitely turned away.  Because, of that he treated me differently - gave me the merest modicum of respect.  But, he also intrigued me.

 

He always stood next to me at the barre and on those occasions when he would allow himself to chat with a no-name such as me,  I soon learned that his love for ballet was not only true - but deep - much deeper than the actual doing of it. 

 

He was a world renowned authority on ballet both as a performing art and its history - a docent at several museums and the leading expert for a number of important collections at major universities.  His own personal art collection (not ballet) was on permanent display at a large museum. His  opinion was sought across the dance world.  He had met, knew and dined with the brightest luminaries in all the arts.  His expertise extended beyond ballet to encompass art in Asia and Africa in addition to Europe.  In some spheres he was THE expert - not one among many.

 

It frustrated him that none of the others in our daily ballet class cared one whit about his wealth, knowledge or world renowned reputation and this frustration led to constant interruptions, loud critiques of other people in class, correcting the teacher as well as rolling eyes, smirks, harrumphs, and other non-verbal assaults.

 

He invariably wore  a t-shirt and black tights which were shredded with age and at certain strategic spots almost non existent.  Since he stood next to me at the barre, during an exercise which included a port a corps (full bend forward) I got a view I did not want to see.  During one of our "chats" at the barre before class I mentioned this to him, but he just smiled a wicked smile. 

 

I mentioned this problem to the teacher (who knew him well) but she said she was "afraid" to tell him the shredded tights were not acceptable. In fact, everyone was upset about the revealing tights and everyone afraid to confront him.   Finally one day after several port de corps, my patience was exhausted and I said to him loudly enough for all to hear: 

 

"Please do allow me the pleasure of giving you some money to buy yourself some new tights."

 

"Ah, " he said with a smirk, "torn ballet attire is all the fashion." 

 

"Well," I answered, "what I am seeing on you is not fashion - it's just old." 

 

The class, at first frozen in silence, then exploded in laughter - and to his credit - so did he.

 

He told me one day, as the years went by, that he didn't know how he could ever stop dancing.  One day after class had ended, he was alone in the studio practicing multiple pirouettes.  I happened to be watching through a window from the lobby.  He executed a perfect triple pirouette.  A smile spread across  his face and he looked around - almost sadly - to see if anyone else had witnessed this rare (for him) accomplishment.  Then he realized that I had seen it and he gave me a true smile.  It was the last time I saw him.

 

I learned that he died not long after. I'm glad I got to witness his perfect pirouette.  Though he often cruelly critiqued others, he also on rare occasions offered a compliment.  That was to be truly treasured since it came from a deeply sourced knowledge and adoration of art.  I got one such compliment from him and I do, indeed, treasure it.

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You have some great stories Anjuli - thanks for sharing :-)

 

Thank you, dtadmin.

 

 

 

Anjuli, you truly are a wordsmith. I so enjoy reading your posts and none more than this! I think you may have just written the bones of a screenplay here! Thank you for sharing this beautifully written story x

 

There were so many interesting "characters" in ballet class.  I'm glad you enjoyed it.

 

That was fascinating, Anjuli. I don't know whether to feel sorry for the man or completely dislike him.

 

I often did both, pity and dislike, at the same time.  He had so much - wealth - knowledge - social entree, reputation - and yet, the thing he wanted most was to dance - and for that he had to lower himself and join us..  And we, the least of us - the sweaty riff-raff - had what he could never have..

 

 I find when I look back in my mind at those busy busy years, that it is not only the joy and tears of dancing that I remember, but all the people who moved through my life.  Ballet class is like a microcasm of the human condition.  

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