By JEWEL GALBRAITH
Published: May 2, 2012
Hey, Observer readers! My name is Jewel Galbraith, and this is my new column, which will start running every issue at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. I’m a freshman, a transfer from Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) and a tap dancer. I’m originally from Silver Spring, MD. “I Pity The Jewel” details my everyday life as an undergrad in New York City, and the unusual, often embarrassing experiences that go along with it.
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I spent a good 15 minutes today trying to think of an uncommonly funny or embarrassing story that I could write about as an introduction to my column. Then I remembered that there’s something embarrassing that I do every Monday and Friday at 8:30 a.m.: take a class at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
First of all, a disclaimer: Nothing in this article is meant to be disparaging to the Alvin Ailey studio, its teachers or its students in any way. If anything, I stand in extreme awe of their talent and artistic ability. When it comes to my misadventures in dance class, it’s not them, it’s very much me.
That said, I’ll explain how my modern dance saga got started. I told you already that I’m a Rose Hill transfer and a tap dancer. I’ve trained in tap my whole life, but the last time I really took modern or ballet was at summer camp in elementary school, and it wasn’t exactly a rigorous course of study.
The Rose Hill element is important because, as you know, Rose Hill is a bit removed from the goings-on at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). When I was up in the Bronx looking at dance class options, I saw “non-major dance class” and assumed it was a class full of non-major dance students. So when I had space in my schedule for the spring semester at FCLC, I cheerfully signed up for this “Horton I” dance class in the name of becoming a more well-rounded tap dancer. It was time to unleash my inner Ailey student.
The first red flag was the dress code: black tights and a black leotard. My inner Ailey student did not own either of those items. But I was still optimistic about my prospects of becoming an expert modern dancer, so I threw down some cash at the Capezio store and practiced putting my hair in a ballet bun in preparation for my first class.
It might as well have been an upbeat romantic comedy montage set to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.” I had no idea what I was in for.
When I arrived at the Ailey studio on that first Monday morning, the other leotard-clad students were sprawled out on the floor in splits and various other contortions, looking suspiciously strong and flexible. Wow, I thought, where did all these non-major dance students come from? I took my place in the back of the room and glanced down at my toes considering trying to touch them. I decided against it.
At that point, I was still holding onto the hope that things would go my way once class started. Then, a man holding a single drum walked into the studio. Had he picked the wrong room? No, he sat down, and I realized we had a live drummer as accompaniment for our class. Our class at Ailey. Full of dance majors. It was 8:30 in the morning in the middle of January and before I could go to Spanish class, I would have to execute an hour and 20 minutes of modern dance in a leotard and tights with a bunch of BFA students while a grown man sat in the front of the room and played a drum. The answer to the question of whether I was in over my head had just swung from “unsure” to “definitely yes.”
Don’t forget, though, I did eventually have to actually dance. Or more accurately, go through physical movements that might fall under the broad umbrella that constitutes the dictionary definition of “dancing.” Even meeting that qualification wasn’t always easy.
The first tough thing about Horton technique is that everything has a scary name. Within the first class we had already covered lateral Ts, eleven-threes and Fortification One. It sounded more like a covert military operation than a dance class.
Equally tough was the fact that I was unable to pick up or execute a majority of the combinations. Every step I did involved a difficult decision between awkwardly half-doing the step and moving full out in a way that could only be objectively described as “flailing.” Anything the teacher showed us I forgot instantaneously. I spent a good portion of the class looking around desperately and doing each step a beat behind the rest of the group. My lateral Ts were Ys at best.
After the first few weeks, things started to improve. Slowly. The across the floor portion of class is still a struggle, but I will say that I can do a pretty solid eleven-three compared to how I started. Even though I might not necessarily miss waking up for the class over summer break, I can foresee myself breaking into a few spontaneous Fortification Threes from time to time. But that may just be the leotard talking.