Blasphemy

December 13, 2013

I was recently witness to some incredible blasphemy. It was the sort that retains its initial shock value indefinitely, running through the memory like bright white scar tissue. Recollection of the insult leaves me sick in my stomach and even more so in my soul.

For those who may be unaware, there is a template progression to be followed through a ballet class. This means that, ultimately, you can expect every ballet class you attend to be built on the same basic framework. Each teacher instills minor variations, but the heart and soul, bread and butter, of each class is the same. The sacrilegious offense that I afore mentioned came from someone ignoring this golden rule of ballet. Fellow bunheads, you may wish to stop reading. What I am about to say can and will rock you to the core. It did me.

Actually, I’m surprised I reacted so well to attending a class where we didn’t do plies at the barre. From the time I started taking ballet at the age of five, I don’t believe I’d ever experienced that. Plies are one of those combinations that teachers often forewarn you will do every day for the rest of you career. As I realized the impossible was taking place, that my teacher was going straight from our warm-up combination facing the barre into tendus, and quick tendus no less, my face pulled into a mask of hardly concealed disapproval. Any time someone happened to catch my eye, I’d mouth, “We didn’t do plies.” I wanted the world to share in my disgust. I wanted the gods of ballet to call down from on high and smite those responsible. I wanted a time machine to materialize in the middle of the room from which my teacher’s future self would stumble. The pianist would be brought to an abrupt halt, the discordant sound of unresolved chords playing soundtrack to his breathless command to go back to the beginning of barre and do plies, for heaven’s sake.

Some may think I’m a stickler, getting too caught up in the dependable traditions of ballet. I can’t apologize for feeling this way, however. The structure of ballet does not exist to confine us. It is not meant to arrest our bodies and movement. Rather, it has been tried and tested over centuries and developed a sensibility along the way. It stands to reason that a ballet barre starts with the slowest, smallest, most controlled movements, telegraphing what is to come later in class. It allows the dancer to clean these skills before they are lost in the complexity of center. It allows one to tune into the micromechanisms of the body, to check in on what’s working and what’s not. This is why the all-mighty plie, starting you off right at the very beginning of barre, is so essential to a ballet class. Without the stable foundation of the pyramid’s base, that built atop becomes increasingly unsound. By the time you’ve reached the top, the structure topples over.

I’m sorry for subjecting you to my rant, but I’m a ballet dancer. You don’t mess with my barre.

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