Saturday, April 6, 2019

You can run but you can't hide

Once again it has been proven to me that there is no way to remain anonymous when you are a man taking ballet classes.

After the end of the Adult Repertoire class last month I took a somewhat unavoidable break from classes. I had a series of conflicts on Tuesday evenings, and was out of town on the weekends. I intended to go to class this morning, but after having been up until almost 2am trying to find an error in my tax returns I really didn't feel like getting out of bed.

For some time one of my sometimes-classmates has been talking up a ballet school in Olney called the Berrend Dance Centre. Olney wasn't convenient for me, but this past fall they closed up shop in Olney and just opened a new place in Gaithersburg about 15 minutes from me.

The adult classes at Berrend are taught by Erin and Runqiao Du, former members of The Washington Ballet and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, who ran the American Dance Institute when I took classes there in 2012. Runqiao taught the first class I took at ADI. I remember being quite impressed with the speed and control he exhibited in his demonstrations.

Over the last few years I've tried to take classes from male instructors with somewhat limited success. Maryland Youth Ballet offers a few, but they're either scheduled in the middle of the day when I'm working or above above my skill level. So the opportunity to take a class from Runqiao is appealing. Checking the Berrend schedule I found Runqiao teaches their Advanced Beginner class from 4:00 to 5:30 pm. I took a quick shower, changed into my ballet gear, and arrived at about 3:45.

The facilities are so new it still smells like freshly applied paint. And it's huge. There are four studios, and the studio where this class was held appears to be half again bigger than the largest studio at MYB. Some other time I'll make a point of checking out the place properly, but I ran into a former MYB classmate whose son takes classes there and we got to talking.

I was a little worried about this class from two perspectives. First, there is no consistent standard for what an "Advanced Beginner" class is. At MYB I find Julie Miles's Beginner II fairly easy, while Susan Gresko's Beginner II class is almost as difficult as Julie's Advanced Beginner class which I find to be a challenge. And Maryland School of Ballet's Intermediate class is a bit easier than Susan's Beginner II. My other worry is that with a three week gap since my last class my muscles aren't in the same shape as when I'm taking two or three classes a week.

Being the newbie in the class, Runqiao introduced himself to me and asked my name, and I mentioned that I'd taken a class he taught some years ago at ADI, when he substituted for the regular instructor who was on vacation. He looked at me more carefully, smiled and said, "Oh, yes. I remember you."

See what I mean about it being impossible to remain anonymous? There just aren't enough men taking ballet classes for any of us to hide in the crowd -- the "crowd" just isn't large enough.

As it turns out, my worry about skill level was unwarranted. This "Advanced Beginner" class is somewhere between Susan's Beginner I and Julie's Beginner II. I had no trouble remembering combinations because they were very short and simple. In centre the most challenging thing we did was a glissade, assemblé combination. Yet this was a bit of a problem for several of the students. For me, the primary challenge was my overall state of fitness -- my heart rate was well above 140 bpm for much of centre, and when that happens my IQ drops and my balance goes wonky. And the gap between classes meant my calf and foot muscles kept trying to cramp.

Don't get me wrong; I am NOT criticizing these other students in any way, shape, or form. The last time I took a class from Runqiao I was in much the same position as they are now. The difference is that I've had almost 7 years of classes since then and have learned a few things. Apparently pirouettes are one of those things, as he pronounced them "good". I guess Julie calling "Reece, SPOT!" and "Look for Reece in the mirror!" over and over hasn't been entirely for naught.

That said, this may be a class I want to take. I've mentioned here as recently as last month that my petit allegro technique sucks. I've even considered looking for an instructor to work with me privately on this. I might be able to use this class to remedy that problem without the expense of a private instructor and studio time.

At the end of class, Runqiao ask me whether I take classes at The Washington Ballet, a reasonable guess as I was wearing a light TWB sweatshirt before class. I said I'd taken a few classes there, but usually at MYB. He asked who my teachers were and I named Susan and Julie. I hope I've done them proud.


  1. My worries about my legs being unused to the demands of ballet after three weeks off were fully warranted. I can walk, but only with significant discomfort. Even sitting still a day later I can feel my calf muscles twitching, and the longitudinal arches in my feet ache. I've been worse, but not recently. This is what I get for skipping classes too many times. :-(

  2. I'm that sometimes-classmate and am happy you came to Berrend! Please come back again :)


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