Tag Archives: willie burmann

Step by Step

29 Jun

Though New York has been filled with great fun, not every experience has been easy. I briefly wrote about taking my first class at Steps on Broadway, and feeling like my legs were stuck in a tar pi pretty much sums it up. The last time I had to change studios and teachers was when I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Seattle, Washington and in retrospect, that transition wasn’t pretty either. I went from not having danced in a year, to taking an open class at PNB taught by Peter Boal! Though nobody was the wiser, my Seattle debut isn’t exactly the fondest dancing memory I have, and neither is my memory of my first class in New York. Clearly, this is just my burden to bear in life, to royally freak out the first time around and have things become easier at a gradual pace. I’m now at a comfort level where taking class at Steps isn’t so frightening, and I can actually absorb the information and corrections the various faculty members give in class.

My encounters with the teachers at Steps have been nothing short of awesome, and exactly what I needed. Sometimes when you take class from the same teachers you don’t realize how accustomed you are to their teaching styles and preferred combinations. Part of informing our bodies as students of dance means that muscle memory plays an increasingly important role, and I’m willing to bet that subconsciously, your body can already piece together any combination of exercises as the teacher is giving it because it can recognize something familiar. Taking from different instructors presents the necessary challenge of almost re-teaching your body to move. I took class with four different teachers and it seemed as though each time I had to “reset” myself, the next time I had to do it wasn’t as hard. That’s like a real learning skill right there, and for those of us who struggle with fast-paced adaptability, the way to work on it is to put yourself in that situation and do it.

For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of taking a Steps class, but dream of doing it as I did, you might be interested in hearing some specifics about the teachers I took with (especially because the levels at Steps are loosely defined and it can be daunting to categorize oneself). I found Nancy Bielski’s “Adv Int Pro” class to be the hardest for me. Her barre is thorough, comprehensive, and fabulous for giving your body a great workout. Her center combinations were also quite challenging, with the allegros including fast footwork and many tricky changes of direction. Obviously, I had a lot of trouble with this because those quick changes require a great deal of strength to resist letting your momentum take over. For example, consider a series of brisés that travel forward, but then on the third and fourth, go into brisé volé—that’s hard! You have the force of the two preceding brisés behind you and then you have to somehow put the breaks on so you can volé, but with no pause in between. I even like brisé volé but in this series it’s a more of a beast than usual. She’s also not afraid to give a fair amount of entrechat sixes either, which I find to be miserable because my left leg hates them. So if you want to be seriously challenged, rise up!

ABT soloist Craig Salstein teaches “Adv Pro” one day a week, and I absolutely loved his class. Now that I know on occasion I can be an emotionally volatile dancer, it’s a relief to take from someone who teaches well and has a massive sense of humor. Though he has what I call the “Alina Cojocaru eyebrows” that tend to make one look worried all the time, he is a funny guy, who will sing nonsense at barre, and make off kilter comments that had me laughing on the inside. At first I almost wasn’t sure if he was being serious or just had really subtle comedic timing, but as the class went on he definitely got more daring with the jokes. There really is something to be said for dancing better when you’re having a great time, and Salstein’s class can also be the perfect remedy for a Monday morning, when you’re spiteful that the weekend is over or you simply feel like crap because it’s Monday. At any rate, class was going fairly well until horror of all horrors, he asked for the men to do double tours. Like the entrechat six, double tours are an arch nemesis for me because they require so much core strength and a tightly balanced fifth position of the legs. So I opted for singles (even though those freak me out too), and wobbled like a school project made out of toothpicks and marshmallows. I survived though, and I wish every Monday morning could be that much fun!

I did take the infamous Willie Burmann class, and the first time around was like landing on alien planet. He’s very brief with his instructions at barre, and it’s almost like a secret language he uses to give instructions but people do learn, and after a few rounds even I found that things were beginning to make more sense and be familiar. I love his barre—it’s unusual, uses movements that you’re familiar with but in unique sequences and ways that you’d never think of. I think he has a great knowledge of anatomy as well and a lot of what he corrects seems to be based on placement. Simply put, he has a fantastic eye, and even with a shirt tied around my waist he could tell that there was some monkey business going on with my left side, so he pulled on it to get me to feel length on the left side of my back and feel my tendu to the back coming from underneath me. What I also love about Burmann’s class is his musicality—he’s very picky that center combinations are executed to the rhythms that he gives them too, and not even the pianist is allowed to get away with deviating! In short, everything they say about Burmann is true and I have learned an astonishing amount from him in just a few classes.

Victoria Simon (a Balanchine repetiteur) subbed for Burmann a couple of days and she gives a great class as well. She’s quite good at describing what she wants to see, in a way that makes so much sense you can’t help but do it. Her class is relaxing and almost spiritual in a way that puts you in a good place to dance with your mind and body (coincidentally, she wears all white when she teaches!). She too has the eye for details, and especially when they relate to articulation of the feet. I didn’t think the allegros were the hardest—though I messed them up anyway by moving on the wrong beat, and it’s really good for anyone’s training to experience a new way of feeling a particular rhythm. Overall I found her class quite enjoyable, and she’s very good at scanning the studio, zeroing in on things that could use work, and addressing them. For a drop in class you don’t always expect that a teacher will pay attention to you, but she fixed my port de bras the first day within minutes of pliés at barre! As a complete stranger that she may never see again she really had no obligation to do anything for me, but I’m so grateful that she imparted several bits of wisdom.

The quality of instruction and vibe at Steps are simply wonderful. I can’t tell you how great it felt to be surrounded by people dedicated to the art of ballet, even though I was too shy to really speak to anyone. I so wish I had more time, but I’m looking forward to my last class before catching my plane tomorrow evening. From scared out of my mind to excited to come back, it’s been one hell of a week at Steps!