Sunday, August 9, 2009

New games, new rules

There were all kinds of little things I had to keep track of when I was living in Europe - coins that were the size of quarters but worth more than dollars, bus/subway passes, grocery store cards, travel sized tissue packets, used and unused minute re-charges for your cell phone, and like the cherry on the sundae, my brand new id card for the dance school. It wasn't shiny and plastickey or anything, in fact, it was just a slip of colored cardboard, but it was my ticket to the dance world. My husband had translated the sign in front of the counter of IALS a few days before, "You must show your card to pass this point."

I was ready. Walking through the crowded hallways, lithe and beautiful dancers in their baggy sweats and mismatched warm-ups lounging all over the place, I held my card up in front of the counter. The apathetic lady with glasses, didn't even glance at me. I kind of flashed it again, before she noticed and snapped, "What?"

At the time, my ability to communicate in Italian was limited to, "Hi. One coffee please! Yes, no, and May I?"

The question, "May I?" was usually accompanied with a hand gesture indicating that I wanted to pet someone's dog (there are dogs all over Rome). So the lady behind the counter was waiting for me impatiently, and I smiled back at her in the hopes that she'd smile back - niente, nada, zip. "What do you want?" she asked me again.

"Ciao." (hi.) I pointed to the schedule showing Raciti's class, and she just pointed down the hallway, resuming her very busy work of ignoring people. "Ciao!" (bye!)

I walked into studio 7 cautiously, anxious. I hadn't danced "real" ballet before, and had a few lessons from this elderly British lady in a small town when I was a teenager. I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting myself into. One thing I knew, almost all the ladies in this room were starting their stretch routine with splits and other feats of flexibility. Crap. I reached awkwardly towards my toes to no avail.. had my toes always been so far away? Marcello walked into the class, casually took a seat, and I found my place at the barre next to an older lady - she's bound to have bone density issues, and she's probably merciful to the plight of a beginning ballerina right?

Wrong. She definitely gave me the stink eye for encroaching on her corner. Before the teacher notices me, we get through our first set of foot exercises, then during the plies he leans on the barre in front of me and just watches. Demi plie, straighten, demi plie, straighten, grande plie, ports de bras forward, cambre back... second position -

"Italian words Italian words Italian words something blah blah blah?" He asks me.

"Um... Ciao. Sono Mattie." (Hi. I am Mattie.) I respond.

He just grins and then in perfect English, says, "Ah. You're American. Did you learn rahd?"
Rahd? I scanned through my miniscule dictionary of Italian and English words alike.. what could he mean by rahd? He continued, "Royal Academy. Ballet, did you train in R.A.D.?"

Ah! Lightbulb! He was talking about my style of ballet. I blushed, happy to know that the few ballet lessons I had before were paying off. "Yes! Yes I did. Royal Academy of Dance style, yes."

"I see. How terrible." And then he proceeded to imitate my movements according to his perception, "It's so careful, this RAD method. Now, you are learning new ballet, how to dance! It's a new game with new rules, and if you don't know the rules, you can't play the game."

I blushed a little harder and he went on with class. Was it me, or did I just get kicked out of my first class? I decided that due to language barrier, I should just stick around and keep flinging myself across the dance floor like a broken puppet - hey, he hadn't said 'ciao' yet! It wasn't so bad though, in the first day I managed to gain pity from some of my fellow classmates, and eventually I'd break the ice with the old lady who hated me for no reason. The teacher seemed amused enough, and at the end of class, instead of the typical good bye, he had the kindness to say, "See you later."

All in all, it was the perfect way to start my addiction to ballet.

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