A Play that Began At the Barre
It wasn’t an item on a bucket list, though that’s what I had told people. A bucket list was easier to explain than the countless classes I had registered for, attempted, and subsequently quit after six months or six weeks. Then there were the classes I took “on and off” for years, such as tango. I can’t remember how I got into tango, perhaps the music, likely the shoes, or the persona of complete freedom and abandonment of inhibition on the dance floor. Tango ended when the abandonment of inhibition became the abandonment by a partner who found a better dance partner.
Before tango there was yoga, the core of all classes, the higher level of consciousness, the inner breath. In fact, it was the inner breath that led to my being asked to leave a class during relaxation. Unbeknownst to me, I was a heavy breather. In between tango and yoga was kick boxing. I’ll skip that episode. The gym and Pilates were the constant until the day treadmills and reformers became monotonous and a stair master neighbor turned to a rather unfriendly news channel on the big screen television above us. I had had enough of gym culture and its odor anyway. Then there were the languages. “I love Fassbinder’s films. Now I can watch all sixteen hours of ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ without the subtitles.” I didn’t bother asking for a partial refund after week three of the six-week course. Russian. “Chekhov! My favorite.” I’ll stick to the Dover paperback editions.
However, I am proud of my achievements in Japanese and Spanish. I completed the basic beginner six-week level in each language and can now introduce myself, say “thank you,” and ask for directions to the train station as well as to the nearest bathroom. Week seven would give me a headache, in any language.
Yasmine Beverly Rana
Women in and around New York City take class. Married. Single. Divorced. Widowed. We take class; it’s just something we do and I have done for the past twenty-five years. I met people in those classes. Some friendlier than others, but I never maintained any sort of relationship once I left. I don’t believe I sought classes to meet a new friend or new love interest though I wouldn’t have eschewed the possibility for either. I had friends. I wasn’t that lonely. I didn’t need class; therefore, I accepted my fate. I would be class-less, but not for long because in my mid-forties, I have become an Absolute Beginner Ballet dancer. I remember a conversation with another class-less friend, an academic and writer who was also searching. She was already fluent in five languages so that limited her possibilities. In our quest, we agreed that we would never attempt ballet. She didn’t like the body images associated with the art and I didn’t like the mirrors. I didn’t want to be in a room where I had to see all my flaws and where I couldn’t hide.
I had nearly committed to my new status when I faltered upon receiving an email about upcoming ballet classes for “The Absolute Beginner Adult Ballet Dancer.” I remembered I had once entered the Ailey Dance School on 55th Street, purchased a five-class card, and never used it out of fear of failure. How would Absolute Beginner Ballet class with Finis Jhung be different from all other classes? Why was I considering this? I forgot to mention that between yoga and Russian, my body had changed from -all -I -could -eat- without -making -much -of- a difference -to now -it -makes -a -difference. I didn’t recognize myself, hence the disdain for mirrors. If I were to try this, as I had to try something, I would do it one time only, just to say I had tried it all. There would be no five-class purchases, but a one-time one session payment with no possibility for future classes. No ballet slippers, tights or leotard. Sweats, socks and t-shirt would suffice. Once the instructor would call me out for not following as quickly as I should, I would leave. I’d keep my bag near me; there’d be no locker option. I’d scope out the exits before class.
But something was different because at the barre, in the second row, my ballet life began. I didn’t escape early after all.The mirrors were there, but I was instructed to use them to see myself and what I was doing and understand how I could be better. I listened. I followed the front row of veteran Absolute Beginners. Finis Jhung’s class was different because he said anyone could learn to dance despite experience, age, shape, talent, no-talent, and I believed him. I had never seen such diversity in body shape or age as I saw in that class. I know I wasn’t good. I confused my left with my right. My balance was off. My posture needed work, but Finis’s lessons, “Stomach in. Ears back. Chest out. Look at yourself in the mirror. See yourself. Breathe,” were more than just for ballet. I breathed without inhibitions.
The music was beautiful and transformative. I returned the following week and the one after that. I bought a five-class package and then a ten-class package. Within six months, I was promoted to the front row. I resisted at first, but I was encouraged to become braver, and I did. I also bought my first pair of ballet slippers. The sweat pants transitioned to tights and the oversized t-shirt graduated to a tunic and then a leotard. But it was more than dressing. It was the grace and confidence that follow me throughout my daily routine. It was the stories of triumph over illness and loss I hear in the changing room. It was the profound friendships I have formed at the barre. It was and is the dance.
Yasmine Beverly Rana is a dedicated Absolute Beginner Ballet student of Finis Jhung’s (finisjhung.com). She is also a playwright represented by Susan Gurman and the author of The War Zone is My Bed and Other Plays published by Seagull Books and University of Chicago Press. Yasmine’s plays, The War Zone is My Bed, Returning, and Blood Sky were produced in September at India’s National School of Drama in New Delhi.Her new plays include After Rome and At the Barre.
Top photo: Bigstock