My trip to New York City…
I had this weird sensation upon arriving back in St. Louis of how….flat everything here looked. Where were the sidewalks filled with people? Why were the buildings so low to the ground? Only TWO floors in my apartment building? Where were the hot dog carts on every corner, the same version of an over-priced deli on every opposite corner, the glowing green lanterns indicating a stairway to the subway, and the noise noise noise?
I had a pretty fantastic time, at least while I was in the theatre, museums, or spending money in one way or another (food, classes, various new stuff). I also enjoy walking everywhere, except when it rains which it did often and I stupidly didn’t bring an umbrella. Did I mention that I showed up to my most-anticipated interview dripping and cold? Beyond my own poor planning, I found myself thinking, ‘I could really be happy if I moved here again’.
And then I came home… I came home to my apartment which I do NOT have to share, has more than one room, and is not over $3000 a month. I came home to several jobs that I am passionate about, jobs which pay my rent, and even leave me with time for hobbies like playing the piano (which I would not have in NY- the time nor the piano). There are a lot more reasons why I am happy to be back in St. Louis but I won’t bore you with those details. I will say it’s been a full twenty-four hours without anyone shouting at me, but I digress.
I will instead, share with you just one brief story that I call:
I arrived in New York on Thursday evening so what could a dancer fresh in the city do but head to Steps on Broadway first thing the next morning? I have no pictures to share of anything past the famed stairway as photos inside are against the law. As it turns out, photo documentation isn’t the only kind that gets everyone’s dance belt in a knot.
After paying my dues for my chosen class, I had a half hour to kill before the first plie. I sat in the lobby, near the open doorways to the studios on the 3rd floor. There were two ballet classes going on and I let my attention drift between the two; One class was the advanced professional level class taught by Wilhelm Burrmann– a tall, barrel chested, balding man in dance pants and t-shirt, as pale and grumpy looking as I am.
Burmann’s class was filled with a lot of very talented dancers and it was the kind of class that would really help someone already in possession of great turn-out get on their leg. I didn’t see a lot of port de bras; it looked more of the ‘legs ad core’ variety of class than a whole body (and soul) kind of experience. There was a young-looking tall dancer with lovely extension and zero core strength right in my line of sight. I was watching her as she attempted a circular port de bras stretch and I watched her entire weight visibly shift to her back leg and the heels and her hips twisted right towards the barre. I know that I am sometimes guilty of this same blunder so I pulled a little notebook out of my bag and wrote myself a note that read something like:
“Keep the hips square in circle PDB- weight fwd”
Two seconds later Mr B (no, not that one- though he probably fancies himself just as fancy) was motioning to a girl from the desk to come inside. I thought nothing of it and continued to watch and attempt to learn something. Then the girl came out, knelt down by me and asked, ‘are you taking notes?‘
I was a little stunned, so I just said, ‘yes’.
And then she apologetically said, “You might want to move away from the door. You have to ask permission to take notes and he’s a little upset.”
Embarrassed and a little shocked, I got up from sitting OUTSIDE the room and moved over towards the desk to try to explain, ‘I was just writing myself a correction, not one of his combinations’.I was trying to be understanding, you know, ‘intellectual property’ and all that but in all honesty, this was not choreography. There was nothing to steal. The combination was something like ‘frappe with a pique on croix’. Thanks, but I’ve seen that before and it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel of ballet mastery.
So I was all prepared to tuck-tail and chasse out of the line of fire when Mr Burmann then came to the door and motioned me near. I thought he might offer some kind of explanation, I don’t know-
‘I’m protective of my lesson plan, it was passed on to me from the Gods’, or maybe some rule that I just wasn’t aware of- ‘you must pay me in sour lemons to watch my class’..
.nope. As all of his now-waiting class looked on,he just wanted to drive the point home by shaking his finger in my face and yelling,
‘You Must Ask! You MUST NOT do this!’
Do what, exactly? Try to better myself by taking dance and the study of dance and the teaching of dance seriously? Try to observe and write a reminder to myself of how to improve? I only wish that I had been writing a grocery list, filling out a mad-libs, or completing an order form for a bulk-buy of tampons or cat food or something.
I have never before in my life encountered a dance teacher that was not excited to share their knowledge with someone else that actually cares about the weight placement of a stinkin’ port de bras. I have never before been chastised for trying to learn. My apologies if I offend, but is this really something to get all bent out of shape over?
It would be nice if people would take a second to find out what is really going on before having a little girl temper-tantrum. Although, this is advice coming from someone who immediately sent angry text messages out to voice my injustice, and maybe there was more to that frappe than met the eye. My guess is that some people are just quicker to be elitist, judgemental, suspicious, and temperamental. And for once, I’m not talking about myself.
I didn’t take any classes (obviously) with Mr. Burmann so I can’t say to avoid him like the plague- all I can say is that when in his presence, don’t dare write anything down except a last will- you’ll want to send all of your cool stuff to me after you’ve died of embarrassment.
Interestingly, he outlined his teaching philosophy for Dance Magazine in 1994 and said this:
The cost in the classroom for a dancer to become a professional is to become totally involved in all parts of the class from beginning to end, executing all the combinations rhythmically and with correct technique, avoiding difficulties, facing the possibility of failure, of looking awkward, learning to trust, to believe and to let go. When one is committed to this, one can do what one wants artistically. But without the illusion of beauty in all this, the work would be uninteresting. The idea is not to be beautiful but to give the illusion of beauty. This is the application of the principle of dance lifted to the ultimate.
‘Scuse me, but emphasizing the ‘fake it ’til you…keep on faking it’ and dancing will never be anything but a merely decorative art form, teachers nothing more than drill sergeants for the elite body that can perform the task. This, Mr. B minus, is MY philosophy for ballet, for teaching, for life:
“Nothing great has been and nothing great can be accomplished without passion”- GWF Hegel
Sometimes a girl has to write down a few notes on those passions (see this whole stupid blog). Sue me.