"Hey, Brock, let me call you back. I’m about to walk into my adult ballet class.” The laugh on the other end of the line was all I heard before I shut my phone off, slipped off my shoes and walked into the mirrored classroom at Springfield Ballet.
I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised when Brock (one of my oldest friends) laughed at the idea of me taking ballet. After all, he’s actually seen me dance, which primarily consists of a series of hops, shimmies and fist pumps. But even as uncoordinated as I am, I was pretty excited to let out my inner ballerina.
Each semester, Springfield Ballet offers adult ballet courses, and when I arrived at the Creamery Arts Center and slid on those delicate ballet shoes, I was ready to leap, twirl and plié my way around the room. But there was one snafu. I have no idea how to plié.
That’s where Ms. Fran comes in. Fran Elkins is the associate director of Springfield Ballet and teaches the adult ballet courses. She started ballet when she was 3 years old. She moved to Branson 14 years ago when she hopped the pond (Ms. Fran hails from London) and started performing with Spirit of the Dance. The job took her all around the world until 2010 when she left the stage and eventually joined forces with Springfield Ballet. With a divinely peppy British accent and a petite frame that hides a powerhouse of strength, she is the spitting image of a ballerina, but her bubbly personality and warm smile quickly melted away the intimidation I first felt when I walked in the room and took my place at the bar.
For an hour and 15 minutes, Ms. Fran helped us plié, sauté and élevé our way through some of the basic moves of ballet. It all seemed simple enough, but actually getting my hips to stay in place as I rotated my leg out and around (more formally known as a “rond de jambe”) was definitely not simple. My knees kept wanting to bend, my hips kept rotating out, and I had a hard time not staring down at my feet in an effort to make sure I was executing the moves correctly.
“Just remember,” Ms. Fran kept saying, “Out like gooey caramel, in like graham cracker.” It sounds so silly, but those delicious sounding words actually helped me visualize the moves I was doing as I swept my leg out and then snapped it back in (a.k.a. battement soutenu). “I love to teach with analogies,” Ms. Fran says. “It works with a 5-year-old, and it works with a 50-year-old.”
Halfway through the class, my glutes and thighs were starting to ache, which was a surprise since all of the moves we had been doing were so small. There were no lunges or squats, just very precise and very controlled movements that isolated the muscles. “Ballet is all about elongating the muscles,” Ms. Fran says. “I think this is a great way to condition as an adult. You’re not used to isolating these muscles and having to hold your pelvis still while moving your legs. It’s harder than it looks, but eventually your hip rotators will set in.”
By the end of the class, Ms. Fran had me popping into first and fifth position with ease, and we even did a few jumps, or sautés, as Ms. Fran calls them. I know I’m still far from being able to prance across any stage with grace, and I seriously doubt that my dancing skills have improved much, if any, but being able to relive those childhood dreams was an absolute blast and, if nothing else, it was a great workout for my tush.