Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Red Shoes

Another semester of Ballet has started and our bodies are failing us already. After a two week vacation until Fall session my legs have lost their strength again and my feet are as bad as when I started. And yet the movement is still somewhere in my memory: all those impossible rules that turn the body into a graceful instrument. The only requirement is to let the body mend itself slowly in every class. I know how Ballet works and most of it is plain stoicism. You let your hips turn out and ignore the pain, you stretch your back until it arches as much as possible, you warm up doing splits as you think about the music and ignore the volts of pain shooting from your muscles. Then you do Barre work and you remember were all those muscles you hadn’t been using had gone to, and you hate feeling them there. And despite the constant pressure on the ankles and the limpness of the arms, the body slowly awakens and it always comes back for more. There is something very noble in this type of suffering and I know that by the end of the week I will be turning pirouettes again, hopefully, I just don’t know how tired I will be physically.

But this short entry is to tell you a story my Ballet teacher, Mrs. Horne, told us as we were doing center work: It happened that half of the class was going too fast and the other half was moving too slow to the piano music. This infuriated Mrs. Horne, who hates sloppy dancing.

“I knew a Ballet teacher in the seventies.” She remarked, “Called Irma Vlansky. She was a beautiful dancer. Beautiful. She lived in Germany and got captured by the Nazi army one winter.”
Mrs. Horne seemed to be talking to herself now, but we all listened.
“They crushed her feet and tortured her, but she survived and exiled to the United States in where she taught Ballet in my studio. Irma was a great teacher. Great. She could never dance anymore after what happenned, but she wore bright red shoes all the time. They were heavy Mary Jane shoes that she would stomp loudly every time one of her students did not follow the rhythm.”
And here is when Mrs. Horne stared at us all with her cat eyes,
“Can you imagine Irma? Yelling and stomping her shoes like crazy? Because maybe I should start wearing red Mary Jane’s now.”

And I have no more to say about this tragic story but this: You should have seen us all move in unison to the piano music like if Irma Vlansky were there, watching us with her heavy red shoes on. You should have seen us.

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