Taking class with Kathryn Sullivan

“Now you’re in New York!  These streets will make you feel brand new. Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New Yooork!”

Okay, okay I better leave the singing to Alicia Keys, but let me tell you this song had been kicking around my head for ages. As an adult ballet hobbyist (dare I call myself dancer?), I have a love affair with New York City. Compared with the meager amount of classes available at my suburban college and the nearby metropolitan area, New York City seems like a ballet treasure box. There are ballet classes for every level, classes in Horton and other modern techniques as well as various floor barre classes. Every time I go to NYC to take a class I feel like a kid at one of those ice cream places that have every flavor imaginably.

Although NYC is a mere hour and a half (an hour if you afford the express train) away, going there is expensive and hence at most a once-in-a-semester thing. Since I was flying home from JFK, I decided to take advantage of the time and the fact that I was already in NYC, and take a class at Steps.

Yes, THE Steps School on Broadway.

I took an early train from suburbia and arrived in NYC at 8am. After some frantic dashing around Penn Station to find the right subway platform, I managed to land myself and my heavy bags at 72nd and Broadway. It was only a 2 minute walk from the subway station to Steps, but someone with my sense of direction is bound to get lost. Steps is located on the corner of 74th and Broadway (closer to 75th), but the entrance is neatly tucked away between two deli stores and easy to miss. So much so, that I walked around the same block five times before I finally noticed the narrow entrance leading to Steps.

The reception area was a beautiful, well-lit space. Two lovely receptionists helped me get my Steps card in order and gave me directions to the ladies’ dressing room. None of the classes had started yet, but through the open door of a studio I saw two tall, slender ballerinas (pros?) warming up. More dancers (those lithe swanlike creatures that seem to radiate gracefulness) were doing warm-up exercises in the hallway.

I was grateful the dressing room was empty. After seeing the swanlike dancers stretching in the hallway, this ugly duckling felt less than willing to undress (especially in the presence of those lithe bodies). I jammed myself into the only dance outfit I had packed for winter break (a black unitard…) and headed downstairs. The studio was located in the lower level of the building. My “excellent” sense of direction once again lead me on a small tour of the building that included a few empty staircases and a couple of fire exits, but in the end I managed to find the small studio.

Every time I go to a new dance school, I become frightened and anxious. Will I be able to keep up with the class I have chosen (the class levels and the labels vary from dance school to dance school so you never know what you’re getting)? What will the other dancers be like? Will I accidentally take someone’s barre spot? Barre spot territoriality is no joke, by the way. Take this from someone who has previously been angrily chased away by a ballerina when I came too close to her regular spot. So I huddled in the corner, while the other dancers took their places.  I had never seen Kathryn Sullivan-in a picture or in person-but I assumed that the lady standing by the piano was the famed ballet instructor. It turned out, I was correct. Ms. Sullivan-dressed in a green leotard and ballet slippers-turned out to be the rare kind of teacher who wants to know her students by name even if the student is just a mere drop-in.

The class started out with a facing-the-barre warm-up of the hips followed by a plié warm-up and two tendu sequences. I was pleasantly surprised by the flexed battement jette, which is done with a short staccato rhythm and is meant to build up the strength of the inner thigh muscle. The barre was much shorter than in Ms. L’s classes (Ms. L, my regular teacher, teaches only Vaganova) and I fumbled on the frappe (the bane of any ballet student, who has multiple teachers all teaching different schools of ballet).

The center adagio and jumps, however, was where the real beauty of Ms. Sullivan’s teaching style came through. She is one of those “no adult-ballet student left behind” teachers. The music will be stopped and Ms. Sullivan will go over the steps again and again until every student has a confident grasp of the material being taught.

After the last whirlwind of grand allegro, I was sweaty, happy and fulfilled. I desperately wanted to linger in the class, take a stretch or two and practice some pirouettes, but the students for the next class were already filing around the door. Sadly, it was time to go back up to the dressing room, pack up and head to JFK.

 

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