Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Other Corps de Ballet

With the company on layoff and the school out of session, a new segment of the OBT population has taken its place in the studios this week. The annual Adult Intensive, a two-week series of daily classes for beginning and intermediate adult students, is underway. I believe this is my fourth year teaching classes for the Adult Intensive, and every time I learn more and more about the students, the process, the results, and the satisfaction that comes out of it for all of us. I adore teaching the adult classes, and although I teach one or two of them during the season as a substitute, this opportunity for an unbroken series of classes with dedicated adult students is especially fun for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, as the name implies, this is a chance for the adult students to actually study intensively. During the regular school year and company season, adult ballet classes are only offered three times a week due to the shortage of studio space (the entire School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and the company share only two studios--- I still don't know how this is managed). For these two weeks each year while the school and company are off, there are two large studios just wanting to be danced in, so the adult students can immerse themselves in the satisfaction of taking class every day. For me as a teacher, it's wonderful to be able to plan an entire series of classes around some goals for what I think it would be good to achieve for this dedicated group of people, and to actually see the results of ongoing work.

I've always had a huge amount of admiration and respect for these students. They come from all walks of life and have varying degrees of experience with ballet and dance. Some have decided to take up ballet study as an adult or come back to it after a signifcant amount of time away, perhaps having studied as a child or teenager but given it up to pursue other things, some are trained in other forms of dance but never tried ballet, and there are always several people who just love watching ballet and want to feel that way of moving in their own bodies. Since I (and most every other professional dancer I know of) started training when I was very young and never stopped, the way I learned about ballet steps and positions was mostly by watching and imitating the teacher. Children have instinctive impulses to move that ballet teachers capitalize on when teaching them how to turn and jump, as well as very pliable young bodies that are relatively easy to form into balletic positions. Adults, on the other hand... we all know how much more everything hurts as you get older! And how much harder it is to summon the energy to move and stretch (watching those little kids bounce off the walls and tear down the street makes me sigh for the days when I had that kind of nuclear energy). So to see so many people make this commitment to learning a new form of movement (and one that is full of unnatural, extreme physical requirements), putting aside other things in their lives to study an art that is not creative but has very specific restrictions, is humbling to me, who has taken for granted all my life how to do these steps and movements.

I spoke with one of our most devoted, focused, and passionate adult students about why he is so drawn to this pursuit. I've been seeing David Brown in the adult open classes since the day I arrived at OBT and was quickly won over by his graciousness, kind consideration for the teachers and other students, incredible dedication to the classes and to ballet in general, and especially by his wonderful attitude about it all. Here's what he had to say:

"I had studied ballet all through middle and high school, adding jazz in the last couple of years. After a couple of years away from dance, I took more jazz and a little more ballet through much of my twenties, too. I started taking classes through OBT's adult program five years ago, at the end of James Canfield's last season. Linda Besant, who I knew from the Brown Bag lunches that OBT used to host, saw me looking at a brouchure one evening and dared me to join her in class the next day. So I did, and I've been hooked ever since. The atmosphere of a professional school is part of why I like it at OBT: the teachers are excellent, and we get lots of opportunities to take class from OBT company members, the regular school students are talented and inspiring... there are lots of great things about studying at OBT!

Ballet classes give me an artistic outlet for whatever emotion I may be feeling on a particular day, a chance to be expressive in a way that the world outside the studio doesn't really offer. I enjoy the ambiance of a ballet school, which really isn't like any other place. It's also very gratifying to watch dedicated teachers and students strive together to improve, and to get to know other people who understand how dance could be so important to me for so long. As for the rest of my life, I've arranged my work and personal schedules to accomodate four or five classes a week. It takes a little effort, but the physical and psychological benefits are really tangible.

There's certainly a "corps" of long-timers and regular class-takers with a lot of shared experience, and I always enjoy seeing them. I also try to be really welcoming of new students, introducing myself before class, chatting with them after class, encouraging them to come back. The adult students, the teachers, regular school students and company members who drop in... everyone loves the program and wants it to thrive, and you can feel that in every class."

There are many others like David that I've become happy to see on a regular basis at the studio, taking class, stretching out afterwards, peeking in at company class and rehearsals. I love teaching people who are coming in to class with that kind of impulse and attitude--- regardless of their background or specific reasons for being there, there is a common sensibility of fun with purpose, drive, and commitment to achieve something. We talk a lot about aspects of ballet technique that are harder to explain verbally than they are to do instinctively, which is fabulous for my own understanding of this art form, and I find myself analyzing why things are the way they are a lot more than I do when I'm taking class myself. So it ends up feeling like a learning experience not just for the students, but for my own growth as a teacher and a dancer as well. Next week: Intermediate Adult Intensive 2008!

(Elise Legere teaching an adult class, with David in the center in black):

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