On principle, I don’t take classes before 11:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This means, no matter what, that I won’t even shop requirements for my major at this time. Classes with shining evals, classes that somehow magically fill all the skill requirements at once, and classes that have hot TFs and free trips to Fiji all get crossed-off my list. If it meets before 11:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t even read the course description. From 9:30 to 11:00, at New Haven Ballet on Audubon St. (just passed Koffee?), Ruth Barker teaches the Intermediate/Advanced Open Division ballet class, and school just can’t touch me and my ballet class.
I grew up dancing because my family is full of dancers, and since I was young, dance class was a part of my everyday life, whether I liked it or not. By the time I got to high school and began dancing in my father’s company, I did more dancing than school, more dancing than sleeping. I chose Yale because there was no dance program and I saw it as my way out. Freshman year, for the first time since I was 6, I just did school, Netflix Instant, and friend-making, and it was blissful. But by the time winter came, I noticed that without dancing everyday, I felt lost, constantly bored and sleepy, and soft at the edges. More than a lack of fitness or freshman-15 thing (though it was definitely those things as well, am I right?), it was a me thing. Without dancing, I didn’t quite feel like me. I don’t always necessarily feel like “a dancer” — that kid who has Martha Graham quotes on their Facebook and says stuff like “for me, dancing is like breathing” — but I did realize freshman year that I’m happiest when my hamstrings feel long. I like to start and end my day stretching. I watch YouTube videos of the second act of Giselle during lecture. In a world where everyone seems to be living in their head, I feel like I live in my body, and (get ready for it, email me if you got me, babe) “God, I’m a dancer, and a dancer dancessssssssss!” So I googled the closest ballet studio over Winter Break and began taking Ruth’s class the first week of my freshman Spring. It was the best thing I could’ve done for myself here.
Ruth’s Open Division class is full of people who carve out this chunk of time in their weeks in the same way that I do and for the same reason–they feel they must. It’s full of people who also say “I grew up dancing,” young things wearing knit knits and fleece warm-ups dangling from their slender frames, and even people who, though over 60, have better attendance than I do. And it’s because Ruth teaches a straight-up New York City Ballet style class, exactly 45 minutes at the barre and 45 in the center. We always start plies in second position and attitudes for her are wrapped and high, a direct falling-off of the way Mr. Balanchine liked them. She went to SAB, has perfect feet and intense hyper-extension, and fills the room with the exact amount of austerity to make it feel like a real ballet class. She is like a mother to me here, because, like my dad, she’s willing to yell at me when I’m not doing well in class, grab me by the ribcage when it’s popping out and not in check, look me in the eye and tell me, “Navy, point your feet harder.”
My main homegirl at ballet class is a 65 year old Argentinian woman named Inni. When you stand next to her at the barre, you can smell her heavy perfume. She wears tons of eye make up, six pairs of socks under her slippers, and long sheer dresses over her silk genie pants and sports bra. She’s drawn to ballet for the glamor of it all, and always has been. Before every class, as we stretch together on the floor, she tells me how much she wishes she could have been a real ballerina: “You know, I wish it so bad. Don’t you? All of the performances and the lights? I’m too old.” But she takes the whole class, takes corrections from Ruth graciously, and does it because it’s clear that she absolutely must. And that’s the thing about ballet — if you must, you must.