March 4, 2024 | Rome, Italy

La principiante

By |2018-03-21T18:20:28+01:00March 12th, 2009|First Person|
E uno e due, e port de bras, plié, glissé, glissé...

ome can be like a black hole. I came here to study Italian for three months and never left. When I first arrived, I escaped the vortex by flying away on weekends and visiting friends. Later, I explored the Italian countryside. Now, I rarely leave Rome. Instead, I sometimes travel within the city, trips-within-trips, visiting places where I really don’t belong.

Today, I decided to go to ballet class.

I am not a ballerina.

I used to like going to discos in London. In any case, it was a sunny spring day and I woke up deciding it was a perfect day to learn ballet.

On my silver moped, I drove along the Tiber River to the IALS, one of the city’s dance schools, and paid the €3 entry fee. After following the swirling pathway, like a loop of caramel atop an ice cream cone, I found myself in the florescent-lit underground circle of dance classes.

Male and female ballerinas loitered the hallways with straight postures, stretching and chatting in ripped black tights, leg warmers, colored tops and pink ballet shoes. I was a misfit in my Nike sweatpants and black dry-fit shirt, but prepared with a pair of tiny pink ballerina slippers, which soon started to feel too tight in the toes.

Classical piano music streamed through open classroom doors. The center classroom radiated modern music’s bass and the dancers’ feet pounding out the rhythms in sync across the wooden floorboards.

I followed the circle to classroom 5, the beginner class, depositing my backpack at the corner of the room with the other bags and sneakers. The other ballerinas, in their early 20s, stretched as they chatted along the wooden bar which lined the two sides of the room, facing their lean muscles in the mirrors.

The Russian Maestro gave accented directions, mixing Italian with French ballet terms that I didn’t know, “E uno e due, e port de bras, plié, glissé, glissé.” The Italian ballerinas, after hearing the directions only once, executed perfect bar exercises to the classical piano music.

I strategically stationed myself at the end of one bar, behind a girl that looked quite expert, so that I could copy her on the exercises, only to realize that we then turned around and I was leading the line of exercises, completely lost. I tried to watch the other row across the room to imitate them but became confused by the mirror image.

Sono principiante” — “I’m a beginner” — and I excused myself to the poor girl behind me. The Maestro took pity on me and moved me to the middle of the other row, so that I could emulate the girls when we faced the front door, and then turned back towards the Maestro.

Years of running made me look enough like a ballerina that my lack of expertise was camouflaged at the bar. But then after 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes consisted of floor exercises.

I was in trouble.

The Maestro instructed us to leap across the room in groups of threes. When I landed in the front of my group, I said “sono principiante” and ducked behind the other two, to be able to watch them through the sequence.

It was too fast. We were twirling across the room — at least the others were, and I was confusedly following, out of step, behind. As they pirouetted, I tried keeping up and basically just hopped across the room, like the Easter bunny with a basket full of colored eggs.

I thought about fleeing through the front door, but would have to retrieve my running shoes and backpack. I also still had to pay the €8 fee for the class itself, which was collected after the lesson ended.

My face flushed with embarrassment, I approached the Maestro: “Sono principiante e…” Well, this is how you learn, he responded; he motioned for me to keep leaping in line.

Unable to keep up with the expert beginners and yet unable to leave, I decided to enjoy it. The classical music reminded me of being a child and dancing with my sister on top of our sunroom tables when my parents were in another room.

I jumped across the floor to the music, as the other two dancers in my group twirled in step. I listened to the beat and whirled absurdly across the room, crashing into the mirror a few times when I spun too far.

Today, I was a ballerina.

About the Author:

Associate editor Katie McGovern is from Connecticut. She graduated from Harvard with a BA in English and American Literature, received a masters in International Affairs on a Fulbright scholarship in Germany, and an MBA from INSEAD on a Rotary Scholarship in France. She resides in Rome with her Italian husband and young son.