Friday, 29 August 2014

So Proud of Manchester - KNT Danceworks Complete Beginners Class

Pierre Adolphe Valette   Oxford Road, Manchester

Northern Ballet started in Manchester in 1969 and one of the company's best ballets was Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man which celebrated the life of L S Lowry. I also started life in Manchester some 20 years earlier. As a Mancunian I have always regretted Northern Ballet's departure from our city though had they stayed they might never have been housed so well as they are now at Quarry Hill.

But as I tweeted when I visited In the Frame at the Lowry Northern Ballet's déménagement has not deprived our city of dance. Not only do we see a lot of dance at The Lowry, the Palace and other venues but we also make it as this wonderful Oxjam flash mob video shows. We have the Dancehouse, Northern Ballet School and KNT Danceworks. All at 10 Oxford Road which is approximately where Adolphe Valette would have been standing when he painted the picture above.

Yesterday I attended the Complete Beginners Ballet Class at KNT Danceworks and I had a great time. Our instructor was Ailsa Baker who was excellent. The Dancehouse is an old cinema which has been converted into a theatre and dance studios. Our class took place in a studio at the top which was large with a lovely curved roof and large windows allowing plenty of natural light.

There were about 20 of us - perhaps more - nearly all  were women and most of us were young.  I joined the class a few minutes before it started to find that most of the kids were stretching like experienced dancers. Complete beginners' class? Huh! Some beginners.  I introduced myself to Ailsa who asked me whether I had done any dance before. I owned up to being in the Over 55 Class at Northern Ballet. "Don't worry!" said Ailsa reassuringly. "If you can do more or less what I show you it is good enough for me."

But it immediately became clear that Ailsa has very high standards and she expects her students to make an effort which is fine by me.  We started some toe exercises followed by pliés and relevés and balances with our arms in first and fifth. Then we did combined pliés and tendus followed by glissés, fondus and grands battements.  It was during the grands battements that I realized that Ailsa is serious. As one half of the class swung their legs at the barre the other half were in pairs on the floor in plank position clapping hands alternately. Now that was a shock for this old lady but I wasn't giving up. Finally we had some stretches with our legs on the barre. Somehow I willed my back paws onto the second rail of the barre. Those who know me will realize that is no mean achievement.

After our barre work and stretches Ailsa called us into the centre and taught us some balancés, posés and a grand jeté which she combined in a lovely enchainement which we practised in groups starting from right to left starting with the right foot and then from the left with the left foot. Ailsa filmed us on her mobile phone. Ailsa used the same music as Fiona Nooman, my teacher in Huddersfield, which made me feel very much at home. I don't know the names of the tunes but I really love them. They go round and round in my head long after I finish class.

Alas, like all ballet classes it came to an end too soon.  "How did you like it?" asked Ailsa when I paid her my fee. "I really loved it" I said. "Then you'll be back?" "You bet!!" and I meant it "Though I can't come every week once my classes start again in Leeds."

There's something about Manchester and Manchester people. They (and I hope that includes me) are very friendly.  My mother, who came from Bramhope, noticed that. She went the opposite way to Northern Ballet. 

There's a lot to be said for this class. A lovely big studio. Good parking nearby (the meters stop at 18:00 unlike the curmudgeonly city fathers in Leeds and Sheffield who rake what they can off impoverished adult ballet students). A very reasonable fee - £5 for an hour. And a great instructor  who coaxes the best out of her class with a smile and words of encouragement.

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