This morning I took class with the woman who (lovingly) forced my untrained knees into the semblance of turn out they exhibit today. Long story short: it was hard. I am more than slightly out of shape at the moment, and it had been years since I’d taken a class like this one- let alone with a woman who shaped me as a child and seemed keen on contorting my disapproving body just as much today as she did back then.
As I walked into their petite Barrington studios, I was met by my former coaches, a spirited couple of a certain age from Kazakhstan, whose passion for ballet and voracious thirst for life is impossible to describe with the limited black and white words I am able to type here. With huge smiles, hugs and kisses like they hadn’t seen me in years- although I’ve been teaching their younger students all week- Vera and Zhanat reminded me what it feels like to be in the presence of those who are truly “for” you; Those people who genuinely want the best for your future and who truly believe with every bit of their being that these goals float within your reach. Of course, not without a bit of their own shared expertise and (more than) a few tough Russian-style technique classes!
As we chatted before class, two more women walked through the front door and Vera bounded over to them with the excited abandon of her rambunctious 10-year-old students I’d spent all week attempting to tame. I now see where they have learned this uncontrolled expressive excitation. Vera unloaded the floppy black tutu bags from the arms of these new visitors and tugged back their zippers to unleash a boisterous wave of color. Bright scanes of folded tulle, yards upon yards of intricately patterned ribbon, small satin flowers with the tiniest of pearls sewn onto each petal. To say Vera’s face lit up would be an understatement. Her entire body seemed to glow from the inside at the sight of these materials. What may have been a pile of junk to a pedestrian was a treasure trove for Vera; Not a collection of fabrics, but an opportunity to create beauty.
“How could I ever stop loving ballet? With all of this! Look! So much beauty in ballet.”
That broken English as charming as her rosebud smirk, Vera ran her hands over her prized new pile of prepatent beauty, beaming.
Earlier this week, when I attended Zhanat’s class with the young students whom I was to teach over the next few days, I was given an introduction to the audience of pre-teen bunheads like I’ve never heard in my life. Flattery at its finest, people. But one sentiment from Zhanat really stuck with me.
“This is Kirsten. She is not a normal person, you see, she is higher up than people who walk next to you on the street. Do you know why? Because she is an artist. She has a love for ballet in her heart and a dedication to this art form in her whole spirit. This is what makes her special.”
Exaggerated and prolific as his words may have been, I couldn’t help but appreciate the meaning behind them. What he was doing with this description was not attempting to feed my ego, but instead exposing his students to the idea that dedication to the arts can set them apart from the crowd. It was heartfelt, eloquent (even in its occasional grammatical err) and, above all, extremely inspiring.
In a world that seems overrun with negativity (often self-inflicted, ahem, I’m looking at you, me), these moments in which we are reminded what true passion and devotion to the arts look like are essential to maintaining a healthy and vibrant relationship with ballet. Thank you, Miss Vera and Mr. Zhanat. Your devotion to your craft is wholly moving.
Zhanat & Vera posing in the city
If you need a bit more help in this department, check out my 5 tips for avoiding negativity in-studio and onstage, now on firstposition.com.
To learn more about Vera, Zhanat, and their studio Ballet Prestige, see their website here.