There I stood, a full-grown adult in my first-ever ballet class, and let me tell you: It was hard. Though my instructor, American Dance & Music’s (AD&M) Carrie Diamond, was kind and patient, I couldn’t help but hear in my head the words from an I Love Lucy episode when Lucy pretended to be a prima ballerina: “In the first place, your posture is atrocious. Shoulders back, hips under, stomach in, chest out, chin up, knees straight …” But with each plié, piqué, and passé, I began to understand this discipline that I had so far only watched but never tried.
I joined Diamond’s class for two reasons: one, because I’ve never taken a lesson in any dance genre but have always desired to do so, and with the school offering a series of intensive classes for adults in the first week of August, it seemed like a good time; and, two, as The Santa Barbara Independent’s arts editor, I thought it made sense to get a rudimentary understanding of what dancers endure for their craft. I recruited a coworker, and the two of us signed up for Diamond’s adult beginners class.
The only equipment requirement was a pair of ballet slippers, which I purchased at Payless ShoeSource. We arrived at the Montecito School of Ballet, the studio in which AD&M holds its classes, and tentatively joined the other grown-ups in free-form, pre-class stretching. Folks of various ages and degrees of experience filed in, and soon Diamond began the hour-and-a-half session. A kind and patient teacher, Diamond expertly demonstrated a series of basic positions before having us give them a try. My execution looked little like what I was just shown.
It seems obvious to say that ballet is a sublimely precise discipline, but it wasn’t until I attempted to do the basic movements that I began to grasp just how rigorous it is and that the cohesion that must occur between one’s mind and body can only be achieved through serious dedication. I posed and pliéed and strained my feet into resemblances of ballet positions, getting encouraging words from Diamond throughout.
A Dancing Life
Diamond has been teaching ballet in Santa Barbara since 2005. She came to this seaside burg from New York City, where she lived and danced for 23 years. During her time in Manhattan, Diamond studied and performed with the New York Theatre Ballet (NYTB), which is where she was exposed to the method of teaching she would later use in her classes. “The most important to me was Margaret Craske, who was a master of the Cecchetti [method]. She studied with Cecchetti himself, and it’s a method I kind of work in [in my teaching],” said Diamond. “I wouldn’t say that I adhere to it strictly, but I do work in that method.” Another mentor of hers was “Diana Byer, who ran [NYTB]. Benjamin Harkarvy was also a really important teacher for me.”
While AD&M curriculum was once geared mostly toward children, since 2011, Diamond has only offered classes for adults, as she understands what it’s like to get into ballet as an older student. Not that she was particularly aged when she first started to dance, but she wasn’t under 6, which is when many professional dancers begin studying the craft. “I didn’t start as a kid. I started later; I was 15 [and] in high school,” Diamond said. “I started at Santa Monica High School, and I had this incredible teacher — her name was Marilyn Allen. She set a lot of people off on professional dance careers.”
As for her wishes for the future, Diamond said she’d like to see AD&M have its own rehearsal space, a place “that we can have the control over to make it the kind of space that we want, to be able to give evening classes. … Another goal is to be able to actually sustain a performing company,” she continued. “Maybe not all year but for significant portions of the year. We could have 8-10 dancers training all the time. Getting ready for performances. … Or even to have the funding to allow the dancers to train for six to eight weeks and then perform even just twice a year would be amazing.”
While precise dancing posture may be hard, securing funding is also difficult — as it is with most artistic endeavors. “When it comes to philanthropy, arts don’t have the guilt and fear cache,” Diamond said. “You know when you give to climate change or health concerns, you know that people or the world is dying. [People] have that ‘I’ve got to help. I’m feeling so guilty,’ or ‘I’m so afraid that the earth is going to die, so I’d better give my money.’ But what do you say about dance or art? ‘It makes people happy. It brings joy.’”
I attended Diamond’s adult class only four times, but it was enough for me to understand why ballet is a revered discipline — the amount of mental focus, stamina, precision, muscle strength, and balance required is stunning. And it was fun, thanks to the pleasant atmosphere Diamond creates, and by the end, I even had a few moves down. Turns out it’s never too late to take ballet.
AD&M is running a weeklong Ballet Intensive for adult beginners, Monday-Sunday, August 1-7, 10:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. each day (except Wednesday). For more information, call (805) 450-7535 or see adam-bsb.org.