Ballet – “The Long Voyage,” by Carmen Tagle
May 17, 2017
Longtime BAE student, Carmen Tagle, writes about the joys and challenges of ballet class, and how ballet continues to touch her life.
“Ballet Academy East” read the sign on the second floor of a small building on East 79th street. For some of us in our young twenties, having recently moved to New York City following professional endeavors, this was an invitation to pursue an artistic avocation never before tried, but often considered.
Up the proverbial steep and very narrow stairway, BAE consisted in those days of one small studio, only 14 feet deep. Classes were one hour long and there was no class on Sunday. The children’s classes ended at 6pm and that was the time for us adults to take over the studio.
Ignorance is bliss, it is said, and it was precisely how much I didn’t know about ballet that encouraged me to assume that hard work and perseverance would yield results. Well, that, plus the attitude of the two main teachers, Mr. Patrelle and Mr. Guthrie, who taught our motley group of ladies (we seldom had any men in class) with great patience and enthusiasm, celebrating our accomplishments and imparting technique as if we were to audition for ABT any day ….
On Saturdays, one could stay for four consecutive classes: beginner, advanced beginner, jazz and even an actual “Variations Class”, which some of us got invited to join and share with the advanced children. We learned the Nutcracker Spanish variation (no doubt, an easy adaptation of it!) even before we mastered a double pirouette.
….and then I discovered the 11:30am class! This was attended by some former ballerinas who lived in the neighborhood and who still danced beautifully. Intimidating as this was, I was hooked. As a young architect working in midtown, I invented dentist’s appointments that took me rushing uptown in my bike and back to my desk again where I arrived flushed and sweating. My colleagues must have thought that I had all my teeth replaced at least twice, but somehow I seemed happy about it. One way or another, this made a major difference in my dancing, since I found out that after a certain level, one learns as much from the better students in the class as from the teacher.
By this time it was very clear to me that: a) This was a very difficult art form and b) it was best started at the age of 8. Nevertheless, I persevered.
BAE moved into the larger studios it occupies today in 1989 and the additional space made it possible to have multiple classes. “It takes more than one teacher to make a dancer”, used to say Mr. Patrelle, and my group was lucky to have teachers like Ms. Dubno, Ms. Bassat, Ms. Thatcher and incomparable Mr. Andros, who along with technique, shared great tidbits of ballet history and information.
Ballet is a long voyage and adults learn differently from children. For many of us, inspiration and imitation, pre dated serious work on technique. Perhaps it is the former that gave us the energy and vision to pursue the latter, as a kind of backwards method. And, perhaps it was the taste of those early “variations” classes that made it all seem eventually possible.
Years have now passed and many of us have been traveling together in this ballet journey. Although we may not be auditioning at ABT anytime soon, we are still here. Able now to better shape our work schedules around ballet class (no more fictitious dentist’s appointments), we are a consistent group who get together several times a week and after some dressing room chatter, we proceed to class and work very seriously. We enjoy our dance as individuals, with our own specific agendas, and also as a group, a “corps” of sorts, under the leadership of teachers who believe that even those of us who started late can keep improving,