Ms. L is a genuine ballet mistress, and I’ve been lucky enough to study under her recently in my ballet classes. I love the challenge and technicality of ballet, though, admittedly, I sometimes feel like dear, lovable Lucy. I took lessons when I was younger, but under Ms. L’s fine instruction, I can better appreciate the hard work professional dancers devote to this beautiful art, and recognize and appreciate the professional instruction my own children have received. Ms. L is precise and technical, but also realizes that we adults are not aiming to be prima ballerinas. She also relates to the fact that some of us may not kick as high or balance as well as we could when we were younger. We each simply adapt as necessary and enjoy ourselves. We especially enjoy Ms. L’s stories about her dancing days.

Respectable Ms. L claims she started dancing “before Moses,” and her stories always give us an entertaining glimpse at a professional dancer’s life. Her anecdotes include relating how one of her teachers would place her ashtray on a dancer’s foot to ensure proper turn out as it was extended in the air. (As if you needed more reasons to have the Clean Air Act.) Then when she was in college, Ms. L decided to take a class in modern dance to understand and appreciate the style better. After three odd days of “exploring the room,” she accepted the fact that modern dance was not for her and left it to those who actually got it. While she was in a ballet company, one of Ms. L’s instructors, like many ballet masters and mistresses, used a wooden stick to keep time. (Notice Lucy’s teacher in the video above.) Then if he got annoyed any particular dancer, he would sneak up and smack the barre behind them with that stick, scaring them to death.

There’s one particular story in which Ms. L taught fellow classmate a first-hand lesson about the strength and endurance of real dancers.

As some teenage boys will do, Ms. L’s classmate would mock ballerinas, claiming that dancing was for wimps. This boy obviously knew nothing about dance. Be adventurous and try balancing on one leg while extending the other in the air parallel to the floor and maintaining perfect poise and balance. Or simply notice a professional ballet dancer’s well-defined muscles or the state of their dance shoes, and you’ll realize the amount of work that goes into a dancer’s training. Ms. L finally got tired of her schoolmate’s taunts and offered to give him a ballet lesson after school so he could see for himself just how “wimpy” dancers were. He agreed.

A basic ballet class can last from sixty to ninety minutes, depending on the teacher and level of class. Ms. L’s class includes about 45 minutes of barre work, in which we stretch and warm up our muscles. Center work comes next, followed by combinations across the floor, then various jumps and leaps. Class usually ends with a warm down and a reverence, or bow.

Ms. L went easy on her fellow student and gave him a lesson consisting only of barre. The boy didn’t come to school for three days afterwards. When he did return, he came to Ms. L and cried, “What did you do to me?! I’m so sore! I couldn’t move for three days!” Ms. L had no sympathy. She told him she just gave him the basic warm up exercises every ballerina gets for every class—exercises she did almost daily. What’s more, where he only did the exercises once during their “lesson,” she actually did them three times: once to demonstrate, once to “mark” the steps at tempo, and once to fully perform the steps with him. And, as she pointed out to her “student,” she was perfectly fine. Her classmate learned his lesson, admitted he was wrong, and never called dancers wimpy again.

Mastery in any activity requires commitment and hard work, as most of you readers can attest to. For an example of fantastic athletic ability (and agility), as well as for your own enjoyment, I give you a bit of Baryshnikov with his amazing spins and leaps. (And to quote one viewer, “Why bother with gravity?”)

During the next phase of serious moonlight, have your red, patent leather, or blue suede shoes ready and let’s dance!

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