Street | Dance
I spotted a crowd of people sporting various dance group gear and trailed them up the stairs to the Dillon Gym Multipurpose Room, where Princeton University Ballet would host PUB 102: a ballet class for beginners!
I chose to wear a Daily Princetonian pullover to show my lack of dance affiliation, some throwback regulation Boy Scout shorts to show some leg and some orange high tops to show some sass. I quickly realized that my sassy shoes, flattering shorts, and openly declared lack of experience wouldn’t win me any slack from the PUBros and PUBabes — these dancers were going to make sure I learned something about ballet in the hour-long class.
After a group stretch, a crash course in the five positions, some twirls and a series of moves I can only describe as a classier version of “dropping it” (by press time, I learned these were called “pliés”), we progressed to the best part of my day, the grand jeté.
One of the PUBabes teaching the skill set the tone for the jump: just lunge over an imagined puddle. Their demonstration only resembled avoiding a puddle if your first instinct is to leap into a flying split, legs perfectly horizontal and parallel to the ground. Luckily, as a Kinsey-six gay with an aversion to both the imaginary and water, but especially imagined water, I’ve always tended toward full splits rather than messy splashes when I encounter a puddle. I waited excitedly for my turn.
When the moment arrived, everything passed in a blur. I didn’t just leap; I flew. While my flight path didn’t come as effortlessly as theirs, both of my feet certainly left the ground for at least a few seconds, and upon landing, my legs instinctively led me back into the line, to fly again.
With a morale-boosting leap under our belts, the boys in the room moved into positioning fit for a small but well organized militia, to learn a minute or two of choreography from “Romeo and Juliet,” a ballet adapted from Shakespeare’s play. The moves seemed simple enough, until the girls complicated the mix — a scenario I assume is as common in ballet as it is in life.
I smiled as my partner danced around me; I had finally realized my rightful place at the center of a graceful alcove in this world where so little is beautiful. I didn’t understand that in merely a few more beats; I would have to prove my worth as a member of their elegant ranks by lifting my partner into the air. After all, each of omnipresent PUB tanks reminded me to lift girls, not weights. When the climactic moment came, however, I figured that, for everyone’s safety, I would stick to a light regimen of free weights approved by a primary care physician for at least six months before attempting to lift anyone.
Despite my personal failure to lift anything but my own spirits during my two grand jetés, the class ended with a laugh as PUB members and nonmembers alike began lifting anyone around them up into the air. I’m not sure how to describe my status as a dancer upon completion of the PUB 102, but with course registration for the fall approaching quickly, I know I’ll add any future class offered by Princeton University Ballet to my docket.
The last time I did ballet was when I was four years old. My parents did not think I was aggressive enough to play sports, so they enrolled me in ballet. My dance career was short-lived, though — just long enough to get this great sparkly blue leotard for a “My Fair Lady” number — and I eventually ended up on a soccer field. Although it is unclear what precisely convinced my parents to change their plans, after revisiting ballet in PUB’s 102 class over the weekend, I’m beginning to believe that some ambitious pirouettes (turns) and battements (kicks) may have played a large role in their decision.
I entered Dillon Gymnasium excited, curious and a bit nervous. I had just gotten off the phone with my mom, and when I told her I was heading to a ballet class, she responded, “A what? Katie, I would pay to see you in a ballet class.” With those words of unwavering support, I walked into a world of spandex, tanks and draped, flowing clothing. The room was already impressively full. A few groups stared at a boy lifting a girl elaborately and then, after a few more flourishes, placing her back on ground in perfect pointe. I wondered briefly whether I was in the right place.
My fears were assuaged when class began and the talented duo traipsed over to join the other PUB members at the front of the room. The rest of the class shuffled into position for stretching and warm-up. I was pleasantly surprised that I could still touch my toes, and remained proud of myself despite the dancer next to me who reached a solid 10 inches past his own feet. Sufficiently limbered up, we ran through some basic positions and added in a few kicks (the aforementioned battements) and turns. I had found a place in the back of the room — I was not quite ready for what I might see in the mirror. It was much more fun to focus on the dancers sprinkled throughout the room and pretend that I was performing the sequences with the same grace.
The instructors broke my suspension of reality as they asked the students to switch rows, moving those in the back to the front. I was treated to a vivid reflection of my wobbling frame, but also saw myself laughing and smiling through the pliés and pirouettes. I was off on every count, but none of it mattered because PUB members kindly walked through each step and offered a “Good job!” or applause at the conclusion of each sequence.
Class ended with a taste of classical ballet — “Romeo and Juliet.” The Romeos marched and pivoted as the Juliets flitted and spun around them. Too soon, the epic love story and the ballet class came to a close. I left PUB 102 with a bit more poise than I entered and one question on my mind, “Isn’t it about time for a ‘Center Stage’ sequel?”