On one of my good days I can struggle and suffer my way through an intermediate ballet class... at best. Being graced with neither the body type nor the years of pre-adulthood instruction I am a far cry from feeling at home in turn out, let alone in the middle of a petite allegro. When James Gnam began his contemporary ballet class with a port de bras at the barre a sense of insecurity and inadequacy swept over me as it always does when I’m thrown into a ballet situation.
To my surprise and delight the class unfolded in a less traditional fashion, not a single word of terminology was uttered and there wasn’t a slipper or a bun to be found in the room. James spoke mostly about proprioception through our feet and explained the exercises and phrase work through shifting the weight of the head, opening and expanding through body halves and the benefits of the spiral through the torso.
The shapes that looked so familiar, a tendu or a plié, became less bound and I found myself moving through them with ease and elasticity. Hearing a new set of instructions on an old set of vocabulary allowed me to revisit these balletic movements as a contemporary mover, a role I am much more confident in. His references to Serge Bennathan and a contemporary pop sound track (battements to Die Antwoord) only helped to reinforce my new sense of confidence. This class changed the way I will approach ballet in the future with a new sense of purpose, even if I never master that petite allegro.
Ainsley Hillyard is an Edmonton based performer, choreographer, and educator who works in contemporary dance and theatre. She is a collective artist with the Good Women Dance Collective.