Ballet is What Heals Me
I don’t consider myself to be a ballerina: I’m not stick thin, and to be honest, I love food too much to ever be. However I am a dancer. And whenever my brain has become overflown with too many ideas or the hours in each day just aren’t long enough (damn the necessity of sleep!), I realize I am reaching my tipping point and need to reenergize. I seek my refuge and fall to my body’s sanctuary, a position at the ballet barre with canvas ballet slippers on my feet and my hair tightly wound in a bun. But most importantly, it is Dieter Riesle who I seek, one of my very first ballet teachers who molded me into the dancer (and person) that I am today.
I still remember back when I was about eight years old, the day Dieter first entered the ballet school in downtown Stamford, CT. Back then, the school was known as Stamford City Ballet and it was located at the entrance of a huge loading dock directly across from The Palace Theater (a police station now sits in its place). He was young, with an incredibly thick, German accent, and an immeasurable amount of energy just waiting to be passed down to his pupils. I was too young to attend his classes, but I remember watching as he was formerly introduced by the director of the school and immediately began to work with the dancers.
What followed would become a lifetime of learning from a teacher and a mentor who was not only passionate about dance, but also about knowledge and discipline and life! When I finally made it into Dieter’s classes, I must have been maybe 10 years old, but something changed inside me from that moment on; my brain functioned differently somehow. Dieter is the type of teacher that sees the forte in every dancer and nurtures those strengths while working on building the other qualities that may be lacking. If a dancer has amazing extensions (they can lift their leg beautifully above their head) then he pushes them even higher. If that same dancer is more fluid and needs work on her turns, then he strips the dancer of what she might know is a pirouette and redefines the movement so it begins to grow and work for the dancer. And he was naturally a caricature of himself, hamming up the German stereotype, scaring us half to death as he walked around class with a cane and sometimes a Devil’s plastic triton that was leftover from a Halloween costume the prior year.
He always pushed me, and of course he still does today. I have good rhythm, and Dieter recognized that. I’m the type of dancer that cannot stand to be off the music. I would rather be precisely on the music than take artistic liberties and over-embellish the movement. And he knew that from the beginning. So I know when he fits infinite turns and beats and jumps into smaller amounts of music, it is to see what the limits are to my type A, pedantic method which actually help me forget my life for about 90 minutes.
By middle school, I had advanced to the top classes at the ballet school, and I was taking two hours of ballet, three to four times a week. I began pointe work, but after about a year, my ankles were suffering (as was my parents’ bank account). In high school, I had to make a choice between ballet and school, and I could no longer afford my weekly classes once my ballet scholarship had run out. The directors at the school did not see professional potential in me, nor did I blame them, but to say I wasn’t upset would be a lie. My friends, a whole community of people that I had grown up with, would be gone, as would my time with my beloved teacher. We were not friends – when he started teaching in Stamford, he couldn’t have been that much younger than I am now and I myself was just a child. By high school, I was still a student with complete veneration and respect for the ballet master; but my time had come short, and I was not to return.
It has been over 20 years since my first class with Dieter, and my body never feels better than when I step on the Marley floor of the studio as his music is playing. Sometimes he uses music from my childhood, and it brings me back to the long, rectangular studio with infinitely high ceilings that hung tutus upside-down and whose corners were chalked with yellowish rosin for our shoes. My classes with Dieter are therapy sessions for my body as well as my soul – my body’s physical realignment also fits well with his pearls of wisdom throughout the class on philosophy, science, and art.
At some point on this life journey, I became an adult, and Dieter and I have become good friends, but the minute my hand touches the ballet barre in class, I’m transported to a place of discipline and a nice, healthy dose of work. Thank you Dieter, for a continuous journey of learning and dancing!
1. Dieter’s Classes: Dieter teaches open adult ballet classes at the Ballet School of Stamford (Stamford, CT) every Saturday and Sunday morning. For more information, go to BalletSchollOfStamford.org.
2. On the Big Screen: You may spot Dieter onscreen in his recent roles as the ‘Gala Scientist’ in the film The Avengers, one of Babette’s dancers in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and as ‘Dieter’ the German butler in USA’s Royal Pains!
3. Ballet School of Stamford: My old stomping ground of Stamford City Ballet is now known as the Ballet School of Stamford with classes available for all ages and levels. Fall courses begin September 10, 2012 – located at The Old Town Hall, 175 Atlantic Street, Stamford, CT.
4. Dance Season Begins: Some other dance schools in the Stamford area which offer a variety of styles besides ballet include Center Stage Dance Studio (Joanne Lorusso, Director) and Locust Performing Arts Center (Jimmy Locust, Artistic Director). Jazz, tap, hip-hop, and lyrical classes are offered for kids and adults!
5. New York City Ballet: The New York City Ballet season starts September 18th, 2012 in Lincoln Center; be inspired by these amazing dancers in upcoming Stravinsky/Balanchine: The Collaboration productions this fall! For more information, go to NYCBallet.com.