Wednesday, January 30, 2008

11 September: My Final Big Step

I can’t deny that I’ve kept myself pretty busy these past two years. Maybe I didn’t do as much writing or mountain biking or knitting as I’d hoped, but I’ve certainly had a lot of fun in other arenas. Nevertheless, something’s been nagging at me. Dance has always been a very important part of my life – I started ballet at the age of 8 and took jazz dance through high school and college. The last time I took a formal class was in grad school nearly ten years ago, but my attempts to find a decent dance school for adults in my corner of southeast Michigan have proven pretty futile. Stuttgart is known for its cultural scene, including nationally and internationally recognized opera and ballet companies, so it made sense to take advantage of these resources and seek out a dance school. One of my German teachers recommended the New York City Dance School to me last year, and I even went so far as to download their class schedule, but I just never got around to pursuing it. I suppose the idea of dropping in on professional dance school and signing up for classes, in a foreign language no less, was pretty daunting. But I finally decided that I had been granted these last three months in Germany as a gift, and if I didn’t give a dance class a shot, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life.

Last week I looked up the New York City Dance School’s website again and noted that they were closed for the summer holidays, but would be re-opening with a new fall schedule this week. I also saw an announcement for an open house at the school this weekend, where you can check out all of their classes for half-hour sessions. I was going to wait until this weekend for the open house, but since the new classes were starting this very week, I figured I should go ahead and sit in on a full class. There are two jazz classes being offered on Tuesday evenings at 7:15. One is called GK/I and is more basic, the other is Level I, for “amateurs with experience.”

There’s no time like the present, as they say, so this evening I hopped in John’s car (to make use of the navi) and headed to Feuerbach. I spent some time working out what I wanted to say beforehand. John said they probably would speak English but I really wanted to do it in German. It turns out to be really easy to get to the school – I simply drove along the ridge road that separates Botnang from Stuttgart for several kilometers before dropping into Feuerbach. I just had to make two lefthand turns and I was there. The school’s website indicated that they had parking but I didn’t see any signs for it. I pulled into the lot for a rug store behind the school and asked a woman who looked like she might be a dance student if she knew where to park. She said to park “im Haus”, gesturing vaguely across the street, but warned that I would have to make a big circle to get there. I drove around the block and came back to the school; the only Parkhaus I could see was indeed across the street, under a business hotel. It looked like it was open to non-guests so I went in, noticing that the garage charged an unlimited all-day fee of 5 Euro. Hmmm…5 Euro parking per class…this is not going to be cheap. There’s a U-Bahn station across the street but the U-Bahn would take at least twice as long and cost me 4,60 Euro roundtrip, so it still made more sense to drive.

The front door of the rather dilapidated post-war concrete-and-glass building housing the New York City Dance School is prominently marked with a six-foot-tall bright pink replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof. The school was founded in 1975, the year I was born, and offers a complete suite of classes including ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip-hop, and Latin. I haven’t got the slightest idea where the New York theme came from, except that New York is considered very cool by Germans and obviously has a big dance scene. I climbed the stairs to the reception area on the second floor. A severe-looking bleached-blonde woman, who I recognized as the school’s founder from her picture on the website, was talking to someone at the front desk. I wish I had gotten the chance to talk to her, but I had to approach the equally bleached-blonde teeny-bopper who was serving as the receptionist instead. I told her I wanted to enroll in a jazz class but didn’t know what level would be right for me. I mentioned that I had five years of ballet and five or six years of jazz experience, but that I hadn’t taken a dance class in ten years. The girl suggested that I check out Level I and then go to the GK/I class if Level I seemed too advanced. She directed me down the hall to studio 5 at the back of the school to watch the Level I class, which was starting in about five minutes.

I felt like I was on a movie set. This was nothing like the small dance schools I had attended in California. Zohar, where I took jazz, had two studios and maybe two or three classes every night. The NYC Dance School has five studios and a crammed schedule of classes running from early afternoon to late evening, five days a week. The corridors were packed with girls and women ranging in age from about 5 to 50, all talking and laughing and stretching and generally looking like they were completely at home. The place even has its own café. I walked into the studio and squeezed myself into the corner near the front of the room. I had read that the teacher, Marilena, had studied dance at the University of California, so I knew she must speak English. She greeted some of the students like old friends and sought out the new students to say hello. Marilena looks like she could be about forty, of some exotic descent, although she’s obviously fluent in German. She’s shorter than me, with thick wavy hair and is a bit on the stocky side – which just goes to show that jazz dance takes all kinds. That’s one of the things I like about it.

There were fifteen or twenty people in the class, all women, ranging in age from about 15 to 50. One girl who stood in the front of the room was very thin and wearing lots of eye makeup, which she kept checking out in the mirror. I know the type – they think they’re hot stuff, but I could tell that she hadn’t had a lot of ballet training because her movements were all gangly. When the class began, I knew I had made a wise decision in coming today, because Marilena was teaching them an all-new warm-up to start out the fall season. This was something I had been very nervous about, because it’s very difficult to learn a new warm-up when everyone else in the class has it memorized. I generally liked her music choices – funky, good beats, and, thank goodness, no hip-hop! I hate hip-hop music, and I hate dancing to it even more. Marilena’s style is classic jazz leaning towards modern with lots of long, smooth movements. As I watched, I realized that the warm-up was much more complicated and faster-moving than anything I’d done before. It would be tough. I also realized that I would be seriously sore after my first class. I’m confident that my body can do most of the moves, but I haven’t done any of this in years and I will have to take it slow. I didn’t have any trouble following what Marilena was saying – she spoke about 75% German and 25% English. Since dancers often travel to other countries in search of work, I’m sure they consider speaking English to be part of their repertoire. I even got some of Marilena’s jokes.

I especially liked Marilena’s floor warm-up, which was slower-paced with plenty of good stretches. Some of the women in the class were pretty flexible but plenty of them couldn’t do the splits. No problem there – in a few weeks I should have my flexibility back. When it came time to go across the floor, everyone went to the sides of the room to put on their shoes. I was glad to see that a few people had old-school suede-soled jazz shoes like mine, but most of them had these really clunky-looking shoes with split rubber soles. I didn’t like the looks of them because I like to be able to really point my toes. Marilena started them out with a couple of series across the floor that were all very familiar – yes, I can do this! She scolded when some of the students struggled to do a double pirouette – that’s OK, I can do a double pirouette in my sleep! “This is Jazz I,” she said in English, “Not beginner. You have to be able to do a double pirouette in Jazz I.” I figured I would fall in the middle somewhere in terms of skill level. Marilena yelled at people a couple of times for not showing enough energy or looking at the ground – a sort of tough love approach, which I can respect. Her combination at the end of class was pretty scary – an odd six-beat rhythm and very fast, but I liked the moves. I never felt the need to go watch the GK/I class, and even though I know this class is going to be a serious challenge, I think I’m up for it.

When the class ended at 8:45, I went over and introduced myself. I started in German but said I was American and Marilena immediately told me to speak English. It turns out she studied at UCLA so I told her I went to UC San Diego. She asked me what I was doing here and I explained my situation. I told her about my dance background and that I would only be here another three months, but that I really wanted to start dancing again. She said it was a good time to start, but warned me that the class would get tougher over the coming weeks. I said that was okay, that I was looking for a challenge. Best of all, Marilena teaches the same class on Wednesdays from 5:30-7:00, which is a better time since it won’t conflict with the IWC dinners. I told her I would be there tomorrow!

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