My friends, we are at the start of a great and sincere journey. Or, rather, I am but you can come along if you wanna!
Take my hand and don't you dare look down...
The Good Year, March 2022: Beginner Ballet Class
For the first entry of "The Good Year" series, I took a beginner ballet class conducted by the lovely people at Dance Flow, a new dance studio on Xiangyang Lu. Good times.
I should think most people entertain dreams of being a ballerina at some point near the start of their lives. It's a common one. Along with maybe "more ice cream" or something. It therefore seems fitting to kick it off this column with this one.
There's a certain purity here. There's chastity here. There's a nostalgia for simpler, more beautiful times here.
We're ticking the boxes on themes of "innocence reclaimed", the "virtuous pursuit of the sublime", and maybe a little bit of "free your mind and your ass will follow".
Themes, hopefully, we'll be revisiting frequently over the next 12 months.
As an art form, I've long been an admirer of ballet. The rigidity. The strict adherence to centuries old tradition. The sheer technical mastery one must achieve in order to be considered any good at it. The fact that out of the millions of people who aspire to doing it professionally, maybe like a handful of people are actually able to.
Ballet breaks peoples' dreams.
I dig that. I'm into it. It's so metal.
I currently employ two dance moves. I have the "Salt and Pepper Shakers", which is sitting in a chair, making two loose fists, and then pumping them awkwardly up and down. And I have "The Drunken Layup", which is raising one arm in the air, swinging it around, and staggering around the dance floor like it's a basketball court and you don't know which way the net is.
Going back before that, I have ballet adjacent experience in the form of "Rhythm and Movement Class" which I was delighted to take when I was... I want to say 4 years old? Basically, it was this earthy lady in those Thailand pants screaming BE THE WIND, with a bunch of 4-year-olds rushing around a gymnasium going wooooosh!
In the final performance I think I was cast as a sprouting seed.
Anyway, pleased to report those dormant skills resurfaced again and helped me out here in my first ballet class.
Dance Flow Studio is a big, pristine, white, warehouse-y type space right on Xiangyang Lu. Our instructor was Jing Dian, a very talented, encouraging, and welcoming teacher who patiently lead us through initial stretching and into the basics of the art — "first positions", is what we professional ballerinas call it. (Happy to pass that knowledge on.) Then we did some barre work (AKA "the ballet bar thing") and then we finished with a delightful group ballet strut — the highlight of my week.
The class was about 10 people comprised of complete beginners to ballet. I think one person had taken a class before. I was pleased to find that the other students were mostly in their 20s and 30s, I think, which is great because I had a panic attack the night before thinking that I'd signed up for a ballet class with a bunch of 8-year-old girls and the optics would have been all wrong for the article.
As it turned out I blended right in.
Stretching... some people are better than others. At stretching.
First position. Holding the arms out in an oval in front of the body. "Pretend you are hugging a tree." Don't have to tell me twice. That's just about the most goddamn soothing-est thing I've ever heard.
Third position. Holding one arm in second with the other arm in first. Nailed it.
Over at the bar, we were working on some petit battements and some demi-pliés, which is bending the knees while maintaining turnout.
("Turnout" is that thing you do with your feet that looks like a duck. Elegant.)
Oh! Having a lil' jump. Note the form. Think this is called a sauté? Textbook sauté, it must be said.
The climax! The crescendo! The classical walk! This is that ballet walk thing. Sort of like a graceful strut kind of thing meant to convey poise, power, and nobility. Kind of like an gazelle that's an asshole. I messed it up pretty bad but my strutting partners looked very regal indeed.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely! Even on top of the learning the initial first steps to ballet, it was a good stretch. Which I haven't done since the late ‘80s. It was a bit like yoga. But more austere. So, there is a welcome fitness element involved. It was also interesting and very edifying to learn these building block positions that form the basis of the artform.
Plus now I can do a lil' ballet hop so now I've got three dance moves.
How can YOU do this?
You should! Get out of the house! Embrace life!
Dance Flow Studio offers English-language beginners and advanced ballet classes, along with a range of other dance classes -- jazz, improv, contemporary, as well as PBT, Gyrokinesis, and Gaga. They accomodate drop-ins and also offer package deals. Contact info at that link or search out DanceFlowShanghai on WeChat.