When I was little I loved ballet classes. I was never good but I did LOVE being at a barre and pretending to be a beautiful ballerina. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time until a few weeks ago, when I got a card in the mail from my mom with one of my old dance pictures on it. Then while watching So You Think You Can Dance last week, I decided taking an Absolute Beginner Ballet class was an awesome plan.
Having taken an Absolute Beginner Hip Hop class at Alvin Ailey a few months ago, I was on their website looking immediately for something that would fulfill my ballerina itch. I signed up for Absolute Beginner Ballet with Finis Jhung since it was on Monday night at 7pm and given that the classes are 90 minutes, it was the only option that worked with my schedule. The Pilates studio I work at is filled to the brim with former dancers and when I told them about the class after I signed up for it they all gasped at the fact that Finis Jhung was teaching it. Reason? Since 1972, he has been a mainstay of the New York dance scene. Finis has taught at all the major New York studios and was a Soloist with The San Francisco and Joffrey Ballet Companies. “His life-long love of theatre and dance has led him to re-evaluate ballet teaching and to develop innovative teaching methods which make ballet easier to understand and more enjoyable to learn, while preserving the essential qualities that make ballet a great performing art.” As a non-dancer, I had no idea but I was suddenly a little nervous about what this class would actually be like.
In the description, it says “for your first time you are allowed to wear socks” but everyone else should have ballet shoes. After checking in, I went to wait by the big, main classroom and got my first peak at my classmates… who all were obviously dancers. There was one other lone sock-er but everyone else was not only sporting the shoes but doing very dramatic dancer stretches in the hall while waiting. I immediately steeled myself that this was going to be a much more advanced class than I was prepared for. As we moved the free standing silver barres into the center of the room, I snagged a spot in the middle corner, so hopefully I could follow along with the people in front of me but not so far back that I couldn’t see Finis in the front of the room. Even though the class was filled to the brim with almost 40 dancers and me, Finis thankfully taught what really was an “Absolute Beginner” class. We stood at the barre for most of the class, learning hold ourselves like a dancer, how to shift our weight so that our movements with the out stretched leg could be more graceful. I loved being at the barre and going through the movements to the classical music. He mostly called out the names of the footwork we were going to be doing, gave a quick demo and then we were off. Since I don’t know the names of any of the positions, it was completely lost on me when Finis said the proper names but it was easy enough to follow along. I got scolded a few times with a very firm “chin up!” since I was almost always staring at the feet of the ringer of a dancer who always seemed to be at the front barre.
I mostly didn’t talk to anyone, but during the short break we took in the middle of class, an older woman decked out in a beautiful flowered dancer’s skirt, glasses and grey hair in braids came over to me “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” My response “No, it’s my first class, nice to meet you though!” She clapped her hands together and exclaimed “Do you like it? It really is just the best isn’t it?” I responded with “Yes. It really is great, I’m so glad I came. How long have you been coming?” She shyly replied, “It’s embarrassing but I’ve been coming for three years. I love dance so much but I really have NO aptitude for it!” Relieved to have a kindred spirit in the class, I smiled and said “I think that is awesome. I LOVE that you keep coming because you adore it! Being good at something isn’t the important part, it’s the doing something you love even if you aren’t good at it that matters!” She beemed and walked back to the barre, we were about to get started again.
The first hour of class is all at the barre but when he had us clear the floor for the last chunk of class I had a momentary panic that there would be some big grand runs across the floor. I was fully prepared to just run out of class if that happened. It turned out the final 30 minutes would be spent doing a little floor stretching and then trying to master gracefully gliding across the floor with a few short combo steps. In Absolute Beginner Ballet there were no big moves across the floor but for a full 90 minutes, I felt graceful. I seriously couldn’t have asked for more and I would totally go back. But I would still wear the socks since really… I don’t want to give anyone any ideas that I know what I’m doing!
Photo of Finis Jhung teaching from the Alvin Ailey website.