The moist, sweaty air surrounds me as I step into the studio. I’m lugging my dance bag, and I drop it with a heavy thud against the mirror-covered wall. Then I plop down next to my friends and join the chit-chat as we cover the bunions on our feet with tape to keep them from blistering, and pull on toe pads for our toe shoes.
“Alright, girls, let’s get those pointe shoes on!” Ms. Rinaldi calls. She is a round woman with short, straight, blond hair that she wears down to frame her face. Today, her gauzy tunic is a deep blue. Her voice is clipped, but kind. “No junk! It’s plenty warm enough today!”
We grumble and pull off our jackets and t-shirts as we choose our places at the barre – a thick wooden dowel that lines three sides of the room. All of the girls wear black leotards and pink tights, and Shane and Zeek, the two guys in our company, wear white t-shirts or tank tops over black leggings. We’re not supposed to wear regular clothes over our leotards, but there’s room for negotiation. Kasha always wears a black sweatshirt when she can get away with it, while Angelina usually dons a delicate chiffon ballet skirt. Keely, Ms. Rinaldi’s daughter and the trend setter of the group, loves to experiment with hair accessories and show off her earring collection.
As we make our way to the barre, some of the girls make last-minute dashes to the box of rosin in the corner, stepping in and smooshing the sticky stuff onto the soles of their shoes to keep them from slipping. Soon everyone is quiet, and class begins.
We start with a simple foot warm-up, and as Ms. Rinaldi demonstrates it for us, she chants the steps out loud: “Pointe and flex and stretch and close, front and side, plie, close first.” Once we’ve all memorized the combination, we place our hands on the barre and the music begins. There’s a piano in one corner of the room, but we almost never have live accompaniment. I have fond memories of a jolly fellow who played at the dance camp last summer and could improvise at the drop of a hat, but Ms. Rinaldi says it’d be too expensive to hire a pianist for class every day. Instead, we dance to CDs of short piano solos – some light and tinkly for dégages, others slow and deep for grande allegro.
For the first half of class, about 45 minutes, we warm up our muscles at the barre. Ms. Rinaldi composes the exercises and walks around the room, correcting our technique as we perform the familiar plies, tendues, frappes, and rond du jambes, each step’s complexity building on the last.
“Relax those shoulders, Hannah. Pull your hips up! Use your turn-out!”
I try to remember the corrections I’ve gotten from my other teachers as well. Feel your spine reaching towards the ceiling. You know those Chinese finger traps? It should feel like you’re in a Chinese finger trap and you’re stretching longer and longer, pulling up, up, up. Your turn-out is like an engine. It’s like a generator, and the energy spirals up through your feet from the center of the earth, up through your legs, pouring out of your arms and the top of your head like a fountain. Breathe as you work.
Finally, we’re allowed to take a short break before the second half of class starts in the center of the room. The conversation starts up again as we sip from our water bottles and stretch together on the floor.
In the center of the room, we start with another tondue combination, sliding one foot out and pointing it in front of us, coordinating our arms with our legs. Since we don’t have the barre to hold onto in the center, we repeat some of the steps from earlier in the class to find our balance. Next we dance an adage, or slow movement, before moving on to a series of little jumps called petit allegro. Sometimes Ms. Rinaldi asks one of us to demonstrate the combination for the rest of the class, or has us show a step if we dance it especially well. We all have our strengths. Shane and I are both good jumpers, Caitlyn has beautiful lines for adage, and Chelsea loves to turn. We practice our turns next, and then some traveling steps that start in one corner of the room and head diagonally across the floor. These are my favorite, along with the last exercise of the day, big jumps called grande allegro. To finish the class, Ms. Rinaldi calls us to the middle of the room where we curtsy and clap to show our respect and appreciation. Sweaty and satisfied from another day of dancing, I pack up my things and head home.