Here in NYC my Ballet classes are somewhat different from the ones I take in Charlotte. I mean, most things are very similar. All my teachers have wrinkles and love to smoke between breaks, they all have this magnetic, eccentric air to them that I have always been attracted to, and most of my classmates remind me of my classmates in Charlotte. But my teacher Andre is different from anyone I’ve ever known.
Andre is Polish and in his late sixties, he has a white beard and wears sun glasses under the fluorescent lights of the studio. He used to be a dancer back in the days, and now his favorite hobbies are to drink and to talk a lot about Ballet. Sometimes he doesn’t mind actually teaching, but he would rather just talk about Ballet all day if he could get away with it, and drink too. This is fine with me. As much as I enjoy the dancing, I don’t mind hearing a story about a certain choreographer, or how a Ballet like “Giselle” has different endings depending on how tragic you want to make it, or how the Russian dancer Nijinsky committed suicide by jumping out of a window of an insane asylum back in the days.
Andre is also a good pianist, and tends to get carried away playing for the class, instead of teaching the class. He plays Stravinsky like if it were the last time he will ever get to do it, but he also gives us a combination or an adagio we are supposed to repeat until the music stops. Sometimes, the music will go on for fifteen minutes as Andre’s head keeps getting closer to the keyboards, his sweat covering his forehead, and we know we will be dancing for a long time: Oh, the pain of it all. Some evenings, I look around whenever Andre interrupts our work to tell us a story, and we are all boiling in our leotards as Sixth Avenue’s traffic howls through our studio windows. Some dancers listen to him with smiles, while others would rather keep the class moving at a faster pace to avoid cooling off. I have reached the point where I can usually multi-task by doing passes and stretching at the barre while making eye contact with Andre so that he knows I’m listening.
Lately, Andre has tried to get us to improve our battement frappes by applying a Marxist critique to this movement. The Frappe is a simple leg movement that one does at the barre, and it prepares you for jumping. Because it is simple, one’s leg is not supposed to go up higher than 90 degrees, and the emphasis is on the foot brushing the floor. But Andre, like plenty of other people I know, can give a Marxist reading to anything:
“This movement is bourgeois: you need to keep it upper middle class. Don’t go lower than sixty degrees with your leg. Like any bourgeois movement, it is stable and like any bourgeois person it is, well, not very interesting…But that’s how you need to do it. Keep it middle class.”
To this I had to laugh and I’m not always sure how many dancers understood the bad joke, or how many have had to sit through classes on Das Capital or lectures about The Communist Manifesto in their philosophy programs. Even so, what I like about Ballet classes in NYC is that besides getting the eccentric teacher, you also get an eccentric teacher who wants to train his dancers into becoming Marxist dancers. Cheers to that.