CHENNAI : From The Red Shoes, The Black Swan to the most recent, Leap — movies that revolve around the art of ballet have always intrigued and captured the audience, taken them on a whirlwind ride into the magical world of fluffy tutus, twists, swirls, leotards and charming artistes — all dancing en pointe.
In the last decade, the city has also taken a major liking to the niche art form. Expert and ballet trainer, Ann Toner, who runs the School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC), the oldest ballet school in the city, gives us a glimpse of how the art has evolved, and how several Chennaiites are ready to be on their toes, to learn the form.
“I started learning ballet when I was about 16 years. Over twenty years ago, RCSC was the only place that entertained an idea about the art form, and ballet was at its nascent stage in the city. Until then, nobody knew about ballet. The only dance form people were aware of was Bharatanatyam. So, to find ballet here in the 1980s was unheard of,” says the ballet teacher.
The school was started by an expat ballet trainer from New Delhi. “This was the first and only ballet school in the city. I came to know about it a good seven years after it was established. But once I joined, the journey was an amazing round of fulfilment,” says Ann. In 30-odd years, the art form has witnessed major changes — from awareness to access. “Since we didn’t have access to the Internet, not many knew about the art form. People who visited the culture centre used to chance upon the class. Intrigued, they would inquire about it. This curiosity, and word-of-mouth led to the steady growth of ballet in the city,” she recalls.
More children are drawn to the art form, for its alluring fantasy-like quality. “The fancy costumes, and what they see on cartoons help children identify and relate to the art form,” she explains. Artistes with expertise in other classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Odissi have also taken to the form.
As charming and transcendental as the dance form looks, it takes years of training and a lot of hard work to display the finest amount of grace. “Many people think: ‘Why does it take seven years of training to dance on tippy toes’. The training that goes before dancing on those shoes is meticulous,” she says.
A series of structured exercises, muscle building, and backbreaking is required to achieve the grand en pointe and transformative visuals that one sees on stage. But, it’s never too late to learn the art. “As an art form, you can learn ballet anytime. Learning is an experience, and I still consider myself a learner. But, when you start early there’s an advantage of having more flexibility,” she says.
While ballet studios in the city are mushrooming, there’s a dearth of trained mentors, remarks Ann. “We have had schools approach me to teach ballet part of their school syllabus. But we need more trained teachers in the field to cover more schools, and that will take time. Most students don’t make ballet their career, and I am hoping it will change, “ she says.