All changement at ballet school

Well, I’ve just returned from my first ballet lesson for a month – and it’s all change at my lovely, local, little school of dance.

I tend to arrive for class late – I tend to arrive for everything late. My body clock’s a bit broken (just for a change) at the moment, so an extra 15 minutes in bed this morning meant I rolled up at 11.15am instead of the appointed 11am.

No problem, though. Miss Joanne and Miss Sarah know what I’m like and don’t seem to mind – they usually open the door and greet me with a hug, or “squish” as they call it.

Café Ballet – got to be done!

But no sign of Miss Joanne today. Odd, I thought. I went to get changed and then walked into the dance studio, checking my phone for messages and sipping coffee. I should have been warming up really, especially as it was sooooo cold! Need to order some legwarmers asap!

It’s a beautiful studio – massive mirrors down one side, barres down the other and big windows at either end. On the walls are decals with motivational messages about smiling and only getting out of dance class what you put into it.

In one corner was a new edition – a giant teddy bear (called Bill, I later learned) for the tots who dance there to cuddle. But still no Miss Joanne, with that massive smile and genuine interest in how my week had been.

I began to get a sinking feeling – she’d not left, had she? A short while later, Miss Sarah popped her head round the door and apologised for the delay – she said there were a couple of bits of big news and that she’d return to tell me shortly.

A few minutes later, she did just that, and sure enough Miss Joanne has left, to further her dance studies. *Insert sad face*. I was really downhearted about this news because she’s been my ballet mentor for so long and has become a great friend and confidant.

Never a truer word written

Miss Joanne, if you read this, thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me, for all the laughter and for your amazing advice in terms of ballet and my personal life. I shall miss you so much, but I don’t blame you for following your dream. Follow your heart – and be brilliant. I know you will be.

So that was one body blow. What was the other news? It wouldn’t be fair to go into too much detail here, even though I’m not identifying the school, but it turns out that the examiner was only willing to mark my exam performance if I wore the male uniform and did all the male moves – so those horrible “strong arms” I wrote about earlier!

My eyes widened as Miss Sarah was telling me the news – did this mean I couldn’t do the exam? I was damned if I was going to perform the male part. But I needn’t have worried, because Miss Sarah is bloody awesome.

She had already cleared all this with the examining board months ago. The board was fine with me performing the female role and said I could wear whatever I liked. Within reason, of course.

But this particular “old-school” examiner was sticking to her guns. So Miss Sarah has taken up the matter with someone high up at the exam board, and all should be fine – different examiner. Someone rather more open-minded. Hurrah!

Miss Sarah said the board was completely open-minded, allowing same-sex dance partners to dance ballroom together and suchlike – and that this latest incident simply should not have occurred. She said I could wear what the hell I liked.

“You can wear a purple wig, for me!” she joked. Might not, thanks, Miss Sarah, but I did splash out nearly £200 on a gawjuss modern brown one for new year. Might wear that, who knows?

So this whole episode means the exam won’t now be next month. But, to be honest, that’s a relief, because I’m not ready. There are still new moves to learn and some old ones to master – as well as getting my improv sorted out and learning a whole new dance.

So, all that sorted, who was going to teach me today? Let’s call her Miss Anna. She’s another ballet teacher at the school and has been there about four years. As well as ballet, she’s also trained in tap, modern and contemporary. I wonder what the difference is between modern and contemporary – don’t those words mean the same thing?!

Adagio – what’s not to like?!

I’ve had no lessons from her before, though she did come and sit in one as I was attempting an improvisation piece, and she’s always seemed lovely when I’ve chatted to her at the reception desk. She once praised my scarf, too!

Whereas Miss Joanne prefers the adagio side of ballet – the slow, graceful, fluid movements (think Swan Arms) – Miss Anna prefers allegro – the jumps and more rapid movements.

I’d have to say I’m with Miss Joanne on this one – adagio is the very epitome of femininity to me – but it will be good to be taught by someone from the other side of the fence.

After a warm-up and breathing exercise with Miss Sarah, Miss Anna arrived and joined us for the lesson.

We only did three exercises – the warm-up, pliés and the foot exercise – but we went through them again and again until I’d got them right. The P-word was used twice!

Miss Anna made a couple of corrections that I’d not had before, especially in the foot exercise, and that was good. The only thing that took some getting used to were her directions.

So, Miss Joanne would say “… and hands to the barre…” in rhythm with the music, whereas Miss Anna would say “bring your hands up” or similar. More Dick Turpin than Darcey Bussell! ;o) She’s quite direct with her instructions and corrections – but direct in a good way.

I also learned a new term – which I can’t remember just now, but it’s written down in my notes and they’re in my (freezing cold) car! Shall check later. It was all to do with matching the ballet moves exactly with the music, though.

Actually, just remembered! Accent – an emphasis placed on one or more elements of the music and/or dance. So there you go. This was to do with the foot exercise, when pointing the foot and bringing it back into third position.

Earlier on, I’d mentioned to Miss Sarah that I felt a bit self-conscious because I’d forgotten the shorts I usually wear over my leo and tights.

New skirt is this one from First Position

So her solution, for the last ten minutes of class, was for me to wear a skirt! Thanks for that! At first, I thought: I can’t wear a skirt, especially in front of a brand new (for me) dance teacher.

But Miss Sarah insisted and said the skirt was a gift. Bless her! Hugs all round. :o) And it’s lovely – black and really floaty. I love it. Whether I’m brave enough to wear it for the exam remains to be seen.

And then we did the three exercises altogether, starting with the warm-up, holding the skirt’s hem as I finished it and ran to the barre, and then ending with pliés and the foot exercise.

So a ballet lesson that started with no little anguish on my part finished on a massive high note.

Big squishes to Miss Sarah, Miss Anna, Miss Joanne and all the other lovely ladies who work at the dance school. I genuinely believe they think being trans is not just something to be tolerated, but something that should be celebrated, whether that’s through dance or anything else.

Andie x


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