Open and closed

My regular teacher Mrs. G is on summer leave, and we have substitute, the enigmatic Miss S. Miss S used to be a dancer with a big national ballet company. She is petite, molded from graceful turns, pliant, soundless jumps and a love for musicality. Before class, she stretches in an empty ballet studio, the music gently trickling from the stereo, the lights are turned off. The studio is plain and ascetic, filled by the presence of is this former dancer, clad in black teaching attire, stretching in the dim glow of the late afternoon. The moment is so translucent, devoid of worldliness, that students hesitate to go in.

Miss S has a very peculiar style. She begins her class by having students stand away from the barre, gently stretching their body, neck, head and ankles. The barre is light and focused on dancing instead of incessant technique drills. “Breathe,” she instructs us as we perform the final allonge in the plié series. Breathing brings an atmosphere of calmness, a finality before the arm settles into the lower preparatory position.

Last week, at the end of the plie section, Miss S gave a very interesting correction to a fellow dancer about her port de bras during dancing. “You are doing your movements very closed,” Miss S said and proceeded to demonstrate. When opening your arms from the first to the second in the port de bras, it is not merely a movement, but an opening with the whole upper body, chest, head and neck included. Even though you are exhaling at that same time, you have to think about opening. The way she demonstrates it is graceful, elegant and elevated, like the opening of a flower.

Closing also has its own accent. With a simple inclination of the torso, one can demonstrate so much, and it is the contrast between the open and closed poses that make a simple plié exercise truly breathtaking. Although, I was first put off by the light barre section and the warm-up exercises I considered odd, the amount of musicality and expression that Miss S teaches her students is absolutely astounding. I am happy to have had the privilege of taking Miss S’s class.


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