Sometimes you don’t realize how good you have it. I had the normal obfuscations of a suburban childhood – sharing a room with my older sister, an obnoxious amount of hand-me-downs and orthodenture, and as my Mom can attest to, dinners that were sometimes no more than a can of tunafish on an English muffin. (Haha, true.) But I also had the all of the expected and special things of childhood, like ballet lessons!
Greater still, I was afforded the privilege to study under the ballet masters at SUNY Purchase. And greater still - the real unexpected gem - was that we danced to live music every class! Yes! How lucky we all were! We were accompanied most days by our favorite pianist, Joel, who played on the black baby grand in the corner by the door. He was meaty and solid and had dark, fluffy, longish hair. And a great smile. We would all hang off the piano before class started trying to find out more about our Joel –our non-critiquing ami for the duration of the class- but then the clap of hands and we were sent to the barre. We never found out much.
He liked to have fun too. If tensions were running high in the studio or when the little waltzes and rollicking fox trots were becoming too tedious he might break into music from JAWS between combinations…It could be a long 2 1/2 hours at times. Joel and our teacher Mrs. Jane Hilliard were a good team. I remember her looking over at Joel, with her hands paused in combination planning position, “How about something moodier, Joel”, or “No, no Joel, they need a stronger downbeat for this.” or simply “play this in 3/4ths time please.” Joel would respond with a change in meter or emphasis, perhaps a key change, shuffling his musical repertoire and trying different tunes we hadn’t yet heard. I mean he didn’t just play, he created and customized all this music for us! Sometimes, this back and forth between them could go on for quite a bit, “No, its still not quite right…girls, rest while we figure this out.” We all hung off the bar while Joel would adjust his playing this way or that way until she was satisfied. “YES! That’s it!” she exclaimed, “That’s what I was looking for! Oh, good, I’m so pleased. Girls, we have the right music for this now."
Mrs. Hilliard could grow tired of correcting our lousy technique but if we were off the music, if we weren’t feeling the beat and living the moment, we were missing ballet’s whole raison d’etre and all politesse went out the window.
“Listen to the music, girls! The music will tell you how to dance. Don’t just count. The first time, yes, you count, but then let yourself go and let the music take you there. Stay with the music, hit the beats with your movement; don’t trample over them, for God’s sake. Enjoy it girls, eh? Enjoy the dancing!"
As you know, Paris is our muse, and to celebrate the magic of a very French art form, we bring you more of Paris’own, Edgar Degas:
Thanks Joel for all the music!
Wishing everyone wonderful dancing days...