TEACHING BALLET


How it is that a young man -a defensive tackle actually- came to be a ballet dancer is a story for another time, but suffice it to say, some years ago I came to teach -or help teach- young women pas de deux, (French for ’steps for two’ -partner dancing), in the toe-shoe and tutu world.  This was in no way because I was a particularly good dancer.  I was slow.  I had good form and terrific turn-out, but a stately adagio (Italian this time -means SLOW), was as close to my forte as anything. (And for that matter, I wasn’t a particularly good tackle either for much the same reason.)  But what I was good at, was lifting young women.  While being able to press a young over-head is a rare ability in general, it was exceedingly rare in most dance studios where there are few men to begin with, those men who are in such classes are pretty young, and finally, those few that were there, were… may we say “lithe.”  So I got hired to teach in a couple of dance studios.

When a young woman is ready to learn to dance with a partner, she has quite a few years invested in dance classes, so most of my pupils were 15 - 20.  It is the job of a ballerina to look light-as-a-feather.  Trust me on this -it’s an illusion.  These women are athletes with a capitol ath and built solid -often quite solid.  Not to be confused with the pretty little things hanging out by the pool.

Pas de deux involves more then lifting, but lifting is a big part of it -either just far enough off the ground for her to do a grand jette -where she does that pretty front-to-back spread-eagle things with her legs. Or it may be only as high as lifting her to the guys’ shoulders in preparation for the “fish” -an ugly word for another pretty thing where she slides down into a position where he kind’a waves her around like her face was a metal-detector. (You have seen it and it’s pretty -trust me.) Or finally, the big lift.  Straight up -as high as he can lift her. In my case, this means that her waist -where you held her- would go from maybe 3 feet up to 8 feet up in about a beat.  Eye level from 5 feet something to more then 10 feet right now.  What fun!

Now you must understand that nobody -don’t care man nor woman, not a weight-lifter nor lithe little danseur, (more French -a male ballet dancer), has any strength until the weight is at least at chest level.  So the girl has to jump the first 18″ on her own. The guy can help a little and once he can get under her, up she goes, but she has to do her bit.

What usually happened -once we had gotten all warmed up and ready, was the main teacher (always a woman and always a well built ballerina herself) and I would demonstrate, and I would lift the students one at a time.  They would give me the required jump and up they would go.  SCREAMING.  The other students would giggle and I have no doubt, assure themselves that they would not scream when it came to be their turn.  And they would scream too.  After I had worked my way through the class once -and it was rarely more then 6 or so girls- I would come back to the first girl for her second go.  But rather then giving me a starting jump, she would inevitably -perhaps instinctively- hunch over, I would lift her about two inches and put her back down a half step forward with both of us off balance and staggering toward the mirrors -where the audience would be.  I’d work my way through the rest of the class, first picking each of them up 2 inches, and then maybe 4 inches on the second run-through, and then 8 inches and then finally after an evening of dead-weight-lifting, getting some of them back up where they belonged.  Some -sadly- never overcame their fear.  They often would go on to become jazz dancers.  Knew one who would go on to become a successful stripper! But this is another story.

10 Responses to “TEACHING BALLET”

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