My “So You Think You Can Dance” Classes

Ayla Kell, 2008 graduate of L.A. Ballet Academy

As with all things in life, I thought it could be beneficial to my current routine to infuse a new element; that is, diversify my dance repertoire from solely ballet by adding another style of dance. Once upon a time, I took jazz alongside my ballet classes because it was another “classic” dance. Mum, being the controller of the finances and my life at the time, probably eschewed the “Modern” class because you know how inappropriately sassy that was back in in the ’80s!

However, modern dance has received great exposure on shows like So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). On that show, the contestants who do modern dance are labeled as “contemporary dancers” and have the most emotionally-wrenching or whimsical routines set to current ballads. Thus, as an experiment on myself, and well timed with a new, inspiring season of SYTYCD, I started taking modern dance classes at Harbour Dance Centre. It turns out to be further experimental because my first class was the last one for the departing regular instructor and the subsequent four classes I took have been with four different instructors. It’s an introduction to modern dance like none other!

I wish I could get NPY to agree to attend one class because I think he needs to experience the dance with his own body to be an even better armchair critic of the contestants than he already is. I’m constantly impressed that we learn basic steps that within one class combine to a choreographed mini-routine but the steps themselves are many, technical, and kind of prosaic. If we do choreography (depends on the instructor), we are repeatedly tumbling and getting intimate with the dirty floor and springing up again and my old bones cry out in discomfort yet, I like to believe, music spurs us to flow through the steps with unimagined smoothness. It’s kind of paradoxical to have to concentrate and struggle to move natural while dancing.

Perhaps it is because the class is in flux with no regular instructor but I cannot predict to assuage NPY’s concerns the class size or the number of male students for a given week. Anyone else who considers an intro-level modern dance class can be assured that it’s just filled with not particularly cool people trying to let loose their bodies in dance. Unlike the case where pointe-shoe wearing ballerinas will attend my intro ballet class, advanced modern dancers do not make an appearance to my intro modern class. It’s probably too basic, lacking in choreography, and painful to watch us writhing and trying to be elegant.

  • Desiree. The departing regular instructor. I was floored and winded when we did Pilates and ab work during our warm up. I sputtered and nearly gave up. All I thought about was the parallels between ballet and modern–the foot positions–and bopping my head to the cool music we danced to: Lady Gaga and the new Jay-Z Forever Young song.
  • Amber Funk-Barton. First substitute. She was incredibly cool and just too good to be a regular instructor to an intro modern class. Her class was just crawling with students and guys, perhaps they came out for her? I liked her no-nonsense–but no abs–warm up and she introduced us to crawling and expressing ourselves. I was still really shy at that point. In that class, I started to enjoy the “Follow Me” portion of the class when you cross the diagonals of the room walking, running, and injecting more and more steps.
  • Second substitute. I never knew her name but she’s a wiry woman I believe to be of Indian descent who has recently had a child… and looks fantastic. With her, we built up to about 90 seconds of choreography. When we walked through it, I felt so lumbering, groaning a little to pick myself up from a lying position on the floor, but having a routine was exhilerating and worth it.
  • Barbara. Third substitute. Barbara actually taught one week that I had to miss class and I only took her second substitute class and it felt wrong from the very beginning. I wanted to give her a chance, that she was older and thus a classical modern dancer. But she made me feel like I couldn’t do the ballet portion and she was quite strict on us newbies and picked on the people who haplessly told her their names. We warmed up for far too long in my opinion. If it had not been a decent work-out, I kind of wanted my money back for that class!
  • Christine. Fourth substitute. Christine was quite cool, a bit ethereal, and claimed that she had returned from New York and had moves we’d never before seen. It was encouraging that she wasn’t a stickler about being absolutely correct. The weird thing was how she brought a skeevy-looking drummer guy and our warm-up, practice, and routine were entirely to his drumming. Even her warm-up had choreography (which hurts my head). She was great but if she only ever uses the drummer guy and doesn’t play contemporary music, I couldn’t have her as a regular instructor.

I think I will make a decision once a regular instructor is found for the time slot that works for me. If I don’t continue, all is not lost because I was able to make a priceless connection between ballet and “looser ballet”, as I like to consider the modern dance form. One evening after modern class, I peered into another studio where women were shimmying across the room waving their jazz hands to the side and I was intrigued. The hokiness kind of jives with me and I looked it up to confirm it is the “Broadway Jazz”. It veers even more from ballet (my core) but we’ll see if I don’t try that….

On this day..

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