“Push that tushy out, pull that tummy in, tighten your glutes and lift your chest high, look straight in the mirror and with grace lift one leg up, pulse with the toe of the other leg, balance on the TOE not the FEET…lift your right hand and smile ladies, this isn’t a drill”
Court practice made me so spontaneous with residual energy that I signed up for Barre class in a local gym last month in ShortHills. I took the two month deal because I have a 16 hour non-stop flying date with ruddy old Air India towards the end of this month. Getting back to the point, what is Barre? well to simplify things, if you have seen a ballerina practice her craft or any movies based on dance, you will notice that most dancers practice their form and warm-up holding onto a bar or a handrail attached to either a wall or a mirror (there are portable ones too). The interest in being tippy-toe developed after watching Audrey Hepburn’s (one of my favorites along with Waheeda Rehman and Madhubala) Secret People (1952) in which she portrayed the role of a ballerina. It was Hepburn’s first movie that gave her a significant role. The story of two sisters escaping the atrocities of World War II through ballet and dance intrigued me to try the art myself.
Dancing is in my veins, arteries and the other bunch of nerves. Play any music from jazz to pop to classic, bollywood or even hum if you want, and you’ll see me tapping my feet, moving my head or wiggling some other part of the body. Music creates such a ripple that the motor cortex part of the brain instructs my hands and feet to automatically start flowing (shoving when I was an infant) with the rhythm. The beats make my muscles involuntary. Mamma is a beautiful dancer trained in the Indian classical dance form of Kathak. She started her training at the young age of 5. Till today she continues to practice her craft, especially in the evenings, after coming back from work. I also started dancing with her and eventually commenced training in Kathak from the age of 5. 10 years of Kathak training and I still cannot get enough. When we were living in England, mamma was my teacher and taught me to define my steps with grace and agility, and not to merely rush through the sequence. Each step in Kathak is an expression of devotion and love for God and portrays the stories of the various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The assertion has to be with equal nimbleness and poise. Developing an enthusiasm for ballet was natural because of the Kathak training. Both are classical forms of fluid expression on the stage. Barre is specifically used for ballet practice and exercise. To learn ballet, you need to have the flexibility and leanness in your form and body. No better place than to start with a Barre class. I don’t know if Court practice will ever give me the time to dive full throttle into learning ballet, but getting started with Barre gave me immense joy and revived the poise and form, mercilessly tucked away under the stack of Court practice, law and case briefs.
The first few weeks of Barre class were really grueling and involved me uttering cuss words under my breath, especially while balancing on the toe. I tripped, fell and ridiculed myself in front of the whole class. It was only in the third week that my legs stopped shaking while balancing the pose. The best thing about Barre class is our teacher and my fellow trainees. Our teacher is most encouraging and at the same time a really (Ooh Boy!!) tough taskmaster. One has to verily shatter the junk of the mind and body to be able to get out of the rigidity and unfurl the body’s evenness. It takes time, but discipline, focus and microsteps towards an aim gives one the perseverance to tippy toe into a bewitching symmetry.
Those hooked onto classical movies will know that Audrey Hepburn became an actress because she couldn’t fulfill her dream of becoming a Prima Ballerina. Audrey had a lot of expression and movement in her body. In the 1930s-40s ballet was considered to be more of form, less of gesture and had very strict rules if you wanted to become a ballerina. Before I drift off into my Hepburn universe, let’s get back to Barre class. Our teacher is very kind, warm and friendly with extreme strength, stamina and poise. My fellow trainees are all women in their 40s-50s and infact I am the youngest of the lot. One cannot be fooled by age, body size and appearance. The grace with which they tip toe and hold their posture is incredible to achieve at that age. These women continuously inspire me to push my body out of its couch potato zone. Barre class gave me a fresh perspective to strength training and exercise. The best part about the class is that we have several forms of exercises all stretched out to be finished in an hour. We alternate between using weights, ball, stretch bands and of course the handrail. The playlist is fun and kick starts the dancer in me to swoop my hands up in the air and gently tip toe my way into equanimity. The class is jam-packed and one has to come early to get a good spot before the mirror. Rain, snow, torrential winds and the horizontal rays of the occidental sun have not stopped me from missing a single class in the wee hours of the morning, despite the bruises on my feet, aches in the not-so-normal (its not what you’re thinking) parts of the body and social engagements. My parents back home were not surprised at the unconventional choice of seeking relaxation post the exam euphoria. They know I am a fruitcake when it comes to music and dance.
It was after many many years I found an activity that really took me to another world. Belonging to a family of professionals and where education is considered the single most important objective in life, I didn’t have the guts to take up dance as a vocation. Thats why whenever I get the time, place, and harmonics, I take off my shoes and delve into the ecstasy associated with the various forms of ‘Nritta, Natya and Nritya‘. My mind, body and soul are in sync and there is an unmatched happiness that emanates from within. I will truly miss Barre class once I am back home in the orient. I was in fact thinking to incorporate some forms and postures into my kathak practice just to keep alive the burning desire to learn ballet. What is dance? Just one of the many forms to express yourself, discover yourself, surprise your body into the amazing things it can achieve. It certainly is an uplifting experience.
“Alright ladies, you don’t have to stay in that posture the whole day, it’s just a couple of seconds..I know you hate me but keep at it..and you pulse, and pulse and pulse..everybody come on down onto your mats and relax into a child’s pose, get back into a seated position and bring your hands at heart centre in prayer, bend forward…breathe..and its a wrap..Great job ladies. See you tomorrow!”