Gotta Dance A Photo Social Interaction Cultural & Visual Anthropology Nareh Sargsyan Anthropology 102/8193 Dr. Leanna Wolfe 12/04/08
<ul><li>At the Studio: </li></ul><ul><li>Location: Gotta Dance Studio in Granada Hills </li></ul><ul><li>Class: Ballet I & Stretch (ages 4-6) </li></ul><ul><li>Instructor: Cindy </li></ul><ul><li>Ballet Aid: Jennifer </li></ul><ul><li>A beginner's ballet class was specifically selected so that different levels in technique would be obvious. The role of the instructor would also be most influential at this point. </li></ul>
When the clock nears the hour, the studio’s parking lot is suddenly filled with cars, mostly SUVs. Those girls who have proven themselves old enough to walk through the maze of vehicles, enter the building unaided. The youngsters however are lead inside by their parents. Once the “Shirley Temple” studio is filled with pink and black hues, class begins! Cindy, the instructor walks in full of energy, takes roll and begins the “stretch”. About a dozen bubbly girls form two equal lines on the floor and start to stretch their limbs. Cindy steps out to take the roll sheet to the desk. On cue Jennifer, who’s here to help, steps in as in-charge. Jennifer is at most 3-4 years older but with her hands on her hips, is able to take control.
After some hard floor work, Cindy returns to continue the stretch at the “bars”. The “bars” are long, round and made of wood. They are mounted on the wall at two levels for different heights. They are meant to reach the dancer comfortably at elbow’s height. The girls align, using the lower level bar. They then begin to stretch their calve muscles one leg at a time. Some ballerinas put in a great deal of effort, others not as much. Cindy then comes by one by one to remind the little girls just where the “calves” are. Once they’ve felt the proper muscle, the activity seems more effective. “Bar work” continues with a few stretches by placing the leg straight up on the bar.
The ballet portion begins when Cindy plays Classical music. She positions herself on a bar adjacent to the girls, where everyone may see her. She then demonstrates the first of the exercises, the “plie,” which means “to bend” in French. The girls begin in “2 nd position” with their right legs first, holding on to the bar with their left hands to keep balance. As Cindy walks around to observe the dancers, Jennifer stands on the adjacent bar as reference. Her posture is straight and poised, her leg movement quick and sharp. The little ones struggle to bend at “2 nd , 4 th and 5 th position” without lifting their heels off the ground. Another challenge presents itself, keeping ones rear tucked in so not to look like a “duck.”
Something unexpected then happens, the shortest of the little girls begins to cry. Cindy at once notices the girl and rushes by to wipe away her tears. She asks gently why the sad face? The girl between sobs explains her mother has left her. Cindy smiles. She looks towards the doorway, where the mother was previously sitting in the hall, to find that the woman is not there. She explains softly that her mother will return, and has just left to get some coffee from the Starbucks across the street. The little ballerina is skeptical so Cindy carries her out of the room in her arms. When they return the girl has calmed and joins the others in line. In their absence, the class does not get out of formation but continue their bar exercises.
It is next time to challenge the girls and move away from the supporting bars. The instructor stands before the two rows of girls and demonstrates their little skit. Jennifer stands next to Cindy and copies her movements. This time the girls who had just cried, is told to stand in the first row, closest to the teacher. She carries out her movements with sad eyes. The other ballerinas however, now before the mirror as their aid, are amused by their figures and movements. It becomes harder to keep the class in order now that the mirror is present. Yet Cindy attempts to keep interest by speaking louder and incorporating more movement.
“ Break time” is announced. Some girls rush out into the hall to the restroom, others to take a drink from the water fountain. Those that remain inside have brought their own bottles and refresh themselves while sharing “fascinating” stories of their days at school. This break serves as both a relaxation and a socialization, a moment for the girls to get to know each other better. They soon begin to twirl freely across the floor. It is at this point I am approached. The girls circle me and begin to ask questions on why I am taking photos. I explain it is for a school project, which excited them even more. They ask to see my shots and I am happy to share.
After break time, the girls are now ready to attempt their “splits.” When Cindy first announces the exercise, they all groan in pain. Only Jennifer is excited and takes her place in the very front and does a right legged “split.” A “split” is where you descend on the ground with one leg in the front and the other in the back, literally splitting your weight in half. This is no easy task and takes flexibility and practice to accomplish. Cindy informs them they will hold each split for a full minute. Encouraged by Jennifer’s bravery and example, the class follows.
Next it’s time for “jumps!” As the girls rise from such a painful task, Cindy notices the mother in the hall has returned. She informs the girl saying, “Look sweetie, you’re mommy is back! I told you she did not leave you.” The girl, overjoyed runs out momentarily in to her mother’s arms. When she returns, she stand confidentially in the front row and a touch of a smile has appeared across her face. The ballerina jumps high and with joy. Only Jennifer and a few other seem to be landing in proper position, with legs bent. The others seem to have forgotten their previous instruction and incorporate their own movements.
To finish the class in the happiest mood, “circle time” is introduced. The ballerinas are told to form a big circle at arms length, where everyone can fit in. Cindy, between them, shows them how to hold their hands and move harmonically in a circle. Once they have grasped the idea, she moves out, letting them be together. They enjoy this exercise as it evolves simple steps. The instructor explains to me this is a part of a “new piece” they will be performing in June for their recital. The girls however are not yet aware of it. They are happy just twirling for now. When they are finished they reform their lines and take a final bow as a “thank you.”
As the ballerinas fill the hall, I am able to meet the famous “coffee mommy.” She sits cross-legged on the floor waiting for her daughter to exit. When the girl comes out, they embrace for a few minutes as if they had truly lost one another earlier. Ballet shoes are then taken off and replaced by sneakers. They walk out hand-in-hand, off to pick up the brother from music practice, as a second round of girls fills the “Shirley Temple” studio. This time it is a tap class. Yet the scene is familiar. Proud parents bringing in their girls and helping them with their shoes. One mother and I have something in common. She too carries a camera but to photograph her little darling in her uniform at the ballet bars. Perhaps for a “Christmas Card?”
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