Ballet used to be a big part of my life. From four to seventeen, I danced two to three nights per week at the very least. I spent most of my dancing days at the Pia Bouman School of Creative Movement in Parkdale; but when I decided to get moving again, I switched it up and enrolled in a class at the National Ballet School on Jarvis Street.
My teacher, Robert McCollum, known affectionately as Ballet Bob, is every bit the legend the precedes him. I’d heard about his methods and character from a number of former students, including my friend Jen, who’d practiced under him during a number of summer dance workshops on the east coast. Ballet Bob is as skinny and as elegant as a slim cigarette. He teaches in rolled jeans, loose t-shirts and socked feet. His long face and toothy smile is positively dramatic, like his personality. On my first day in the class, I was chuffed to hear him proclaim loudly during a barre exercise: “Vanessa, I’m in love with you!” He falls in love a lot during one class, and it elevates us all.
With each class you learn something new about Ballet and about Bob. For example, as Bob was finishing the recently published Apollo’s Angels on the history of ballet, our class learned that ballet began in Italy and that the first incarnations of the art form utilized the upper body almost exclusively, due to the restrictions of courtly dress. We’ve also learned that the frappé is the best defense against shin splints because it’s the only exercise known that can strengthen the shin muscles. Who knew? I was even more surprised to learn that Bob came to ballet late, as an eighteen year old. He trained intensively as a young man in New York City, where he spent evenings playing piroette and balancing games with his dancer roommates because they couldn’t afford to enjoy the city’s nightlife. Romantic, right?!
Our class is sizable and composed of all types; but Bob pulls us all together. He knows us all by name, which is remarkable, and we all worship him for it as it shows his attention to detail and his passion for teaching. I’ve always been turned off of adult level ballet classes because it’s never felt important. By that I mean, it’s hard to feel motivated without a performance, exam or try-out in sight. Class with Ballet Bob is different. We’re all working hard to improve and to be our best because he’s watching and waiting to fall in love with us.