Ballerinas Among the Books
It's plain to see that the Library is expanding into areas not usually thought of as a literary bastion's domain. Many branches have chess, yoga, robotics, and opera, and on some days seem to transform into community centers. That's definitely true here at the 67th Street Library, and one of our most booming and unusual programs is Ballet for adults, a group so committed they now have a suite of offerings including a post-class discussion group and their own website.
Ballet Exercise at the library was the brainchild of Jennifer Grambs, a theatrical costume designer and writer who started volunteering at the 67th Street Library as a Stay Well Exercise instructor. Trained by the NYC Department for the Aging in running exercises for older adults, she co-taught that course here for over a year. Jennifer found that her background in and love of Ballet was coming through in some of the exercises. When students told her how much they enjoyed it, she decided she wanted to do what she could to share more of the dance that was such an important part of her life.
Jennifer says: "Because I've been a New Yorker for so long, I've been lucky enough to take class with wonderful teachers at historic studios like Carnegie Hall, Ailey, Martha Graham, and master teachers like Matt Maddox who taught my first class in New Jersey where I was born. I never trained as a ballet teacher; I just teach what I know and demonstrate what ballet means to me. I took my first ballet class at age 18 and have been dancing ever since! When I went through chemotherapy for breast cancer twenty years ago, ballet was (and is) my most important exercise and meditation. I sometimes think dancing is the most important thing that has kept me well. "
Almost a year ago she started her own class: Ballet for adults, whose following has grown to fill our room with 20-30 students each week.
Our ballerinas range in age from 27 to 87 and come from places as diverse as Thailand, Inner Mongolia, India, France, Ireland, China, Korea, Japan and even New York City. The Post-Ballet discussion group came from an idea Jennifer had when she noticed how committed our ballerinas are to dance and to each other. "I wanted them to have a place to gather together, to get to know each other and to share ideas about how ballet can be a serious part of our lives that affects how we feel about our bodies, our age and how we see ourselves and each other." One student dubbed the take-home exercises as "The Jennifer Grambs Technique," which the instructor uses to encourage students to interpret the movements she teaches into their everyday, New York City lives.
"Do I have cool anecdotes?" asks Jennifer, "You bet. For example, it's amazing how our students stay in touch, no matter where they are. One of our 80-ish ballerinas went to Florida for the winter and sent me a video of herself doing the ballet routine I choreographed for the class. Bruno, our male danseur, told me he once spent time in the hospital emergency room and was adamant with the doctor that he had to be able to return to class. The doctor agreed. Another ballerina said that she's so proud to tell people that she studies ballet. First of all, people are surprised, she said. They never really think about older women being serious about ballet and are always amazed. Another plus of our ballet class, the ballerinas say, is that they have been moved to learn more about ballet itself and are attending performances they never would have thought about before. One of our ballerinas said her children took her to Lincoln Center for Mother's Day and that was a result of how much she talks about ballet class."
Our ballerinas are incredibly effusive in their appreciation for their teacher and for the library. They have a website to keep in touch and keep practicing their choreography when they're away or class is on break. They also made a video spot in support of our budget campaign last spring to stop the cuts and save the library.
For me, being able to see how this class brings together people from different parts of the community and creates such enthusiasm and interest and joy is one of the best parts of working at a library. We'll be doing a ballet book and DVD display in honor of the class's upcoming one-year anniversary in October. Come check it out!
Ballet for Adults meets Tuesdays at 2 p.m. at the 67th Street Library. Stay Well Exercise meets Thursdays at 12pm at the 67th Street LIbrary.