Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New York (Part 2)

It's exactly what you think it'd look like, if you're the kind of person who thinks about these things. That is, a fifth floor dance studio on Manhattan's Upper West Side, four stories above a grocery store at 74th Street and Broadway.

Like me, if you're the kind of person who thinks about these things, then you aren't surprised by the two large, painted metal poles that split the center of the studio to support the floor above. (Ah! It looks just like ["insert favorite dance movie here"]!)

You may think that these buildings conceal few feats of 20th century engineering. Poles in the middle of the room! Radiators lining the back wall. You may feel the January chill coming through the windows' panes as you drop your makeshift "dance bag" of shoes and street clothes on the floor in front of the radiator.

If you're the kind of person who thinks about these things, then you may wonder if anyone has ever collided with one of those freakin' poles, perhaps in a dizzying leap and turn combination while wearing ragged and taped-up ballet shoes, skinny gray tights and, perhaps, for effect or utility - a blue-and-gold striped headband? While the accompanist plays a rowdy rondo -- perhaps, it is Chopin -- allegro vivace con fuoco?

Then you may stop obsessing about the poles and relax a little. You may feel surprisingly comfortable in this iconic setting, a dancer's studio in New York City.

And then you may get a little nervous, but in a good and curious kind of way. Not the head-between-your-knees-about-to-throw-up-in-the-wings-before-a-community-theatre-holiday-show kind of way.

If you are the kind of person who imagines these things, then you may hear and see a chatty, steady stream of 20 or so young dancers walking into the studio, first beelining to its edges where they leave their dance bags on the floor beneath the barres, then striding to claim their spots in the center of the room to warm up.

You may wonder who are the regulars, and who are newcomers. And you may wonder who else is visiting from a city over 1,700 miles away, and if that person is also a bit anxious about what will be taught in class. And will it be fun, or perhaps, very (very) hard.

And are those qualities mutually exclusive anyway?
You may decide that they are not. You may decide that today, you'll loosen up. You'll feel the joy.

If you are the kind of person who thinks about these things, you may wonder whether the teacher really wants to be teaching, or is she simply making do in between gigs? Because you've picked up on a notion that teaching a jazz dance class in New York is a second-class status among certain professionals. Because if you're teaching, why aren't you working? Performing? Choreographing? Directing?

And you think that attitude is the entertainment industry's hegemonic baloney (and you giggle that the word hegemony sprung from the recesses of your quasi-academic mind)...and that baloney is pretty easy to swallow but it takes years to digest. It could even make an artist unwell -- until they finally let it go. Because really, where would anyone be without teachers? (But a teeny part of you -- the part that hungers for merit, for attention - kinda gets it.)

If you are an observant writer who thinks about these things, you may notice the dancer's shoes, those worn-out character shoes with peeling layers of silver over black over tan leather. You may wonder, where is she working? Is she singing, acting, and dancing? How long, how often, for whom does she dance to wear out her shoes?

Before the dancing even begins, there's a lot going on in a New York dance class -- if you're the kind of person who thinks about these things.

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