Last week I took class, for the very first time, on zoom. When the pandemic started and the world shut down, I had free access to Hamilton Dance; a beautiful studio in north Brooklyn. I had been teaching at Hamilton since the very beginning of my career, and Rita Hamilton (who tragically passed so young this year) gave me free use of her studio. I taught all of my zoom classes for five different schools from this studio, and in this studio, I gave myself a daily class. I had been in the dance industry for more than three decades. I had taught scores of dancers at every level. If I wasn’t going to be taking class live in a studio, why would I take class on zoom? If I was going to be by myself anyway, why not just give myself class? And that’s just what I did. Day after day I spent a full hour at the barre, I did all 42 minutes of Luigi’s beautiful technique exercises, I did a short centre practice and worked on a jazz combination. Every day, of every week; month, after month, after month.
But some months after Rita’s passing the studio closed its doors for good, and I lost my home. It is impossible to dance in my tiny New York apartment and my daily class started to dwindle down to a couple of times a week, when I could find some empty studio time at one of the schools at which I was teaching.
When I was first made aware of social media I was very reluctant to join. It actually seemed pointless to me. But at my sister’s insistence, I joined Facebook and Facebook became a great way to find and reconnect with old friends. But as the years rolled on, I became aware of Facebook groups, and started networking with colleagues all over the world. And I made friends. Actual friends. Some of whom I have met in person, others I know only through the virtual reality of the internet.
One of these friends is Pallas Śridevi, a ballet teacher with an impressive education linking directly back to Balanchine and an even more impressive and eclectic performing career. We have spent quite a bit of time messaging on line, talking of the phone and visiting on zoom. And although we have never actually met face to face, I am truly honored to count her among my colleagues and friends. Although our training was quite different, our philosophies of teaching are quite similar and I discovered through our conversations that she has an incredible depth of knowledge in, and passion for, the art of ballet.
Pallas had suggested several times that I take her ballet class on zoom. Now, to be perfectly honest, I was quite resistant. Why would I take someone’s class on zoom when I could just give myself class on my own? And why bother trying to find an affordable studio space at the precise time that she was teaching when I could just do class alone, right before or right after one of my regular classes that I teach?
Why? Because I might actually learn something. And so I signed on to one of Pallas’s classes. Firstly, the class is brilliant; a full barre and a “short centre” that gets everything done with incredible economy. Her class made me really examine what I was doing when teaching on zoom. I was feeling the need to “pack in” as much as possible into the time allotted; always feeling like I was racing the clock. Pallas’s class brilliantly gets everything done in a clear, concise and economical format that never feels rushed. She is breezy and relaxed, making everyone feel welcome, all the while imparting first rate teaching. Her exercises are inventive, musical, artistic and challenging and her keen eye saw even the smallest details that required correcting. When I give myself class I will often make tiny discoveries, but when I study with another teacher (the right teacher) I often realize how much I still have to learn. I learned so much from her in those 75 minutes.
After dancing alone in a studio for more than a year, I had forgotten something that is so fundamental about dance training; it is something that we do for ourselves, in a very profoundly intimate way; yet we do it together, as a community. And what I didn’t realize, was that I was missing that community. For centuries, ballet students have come together, placed their left hand on the barre, and lived through the daily ritual of class. Together. Tomorrow, as some studios are now open in New York, I will be taking my first live class since the beginning of the pandemic. But I have Pallas Śridevi, and her exquisite teaching to thank for reminding me of the importance of our community. I have Pallas to thank for opening her heart and reaching out across an ocean, to teach me this important lesson. I am honored and touched to have been so warmly welcomed into her ballet community. Her class is a treasure.