Walking into the studio in the morning, the energy is different than the typical pre-class vibe. Normally bodies are lounging, splayed on the floor, knots gently worked out and coffee sipped as the dancers prepare for the day ahead. Today, however, bright colors are everywhere, laughter fills the air and the room hums with excitement. A lifeguard with a swimsuit and whistle stands at the barre with a safari leader, taking class in his field boots. The whole cast of Monsters Inc. stands at the back wall, and a cat in a black leotard adjusts her ears.
As we begin to jump, Superman flies through the air, cape blowing in the wake of a grand jete.
“Gelsey Kirkland” stands in the corner of the room at one of the boys’ usual barre spot, surveying the costumes with red lips parsed. His – I mean her – golden headscarf shimmers and large sunglasses only serve to draw more attention to her bright lipstick shade. An over-sized sweater and ballet skirt complete the look. She returns for Halloween every year, Balanchine port de bras and dramatic flair included.
Our ballet master enters the room, eyes twinkling but attempting to maintain some aura of professionalism.
“Plies!” he orders. We get to work, still snickering as we catch each other’s eyes. I have to avoid looking at Gelsey who is doing some elaborate stretching routine. Just as we’re settling into the normality of this absurdity, a wave of chuckles washes over from the back door of the studio. I turn to see a forest creature covered in rustling leaves… on stilts! Without a word, this creature hobbles over to the spot next to Gelsey and does the appropriate port de bras for the rest of the combination.
We try to pull ourselves together and focus on our tendus. Our ballet master nobly leads us through the rest of barre, fighting to keep the smiles from cracking his concentrated manner. Yet, even he couldn’t subdue a laugh once we got to center and Gelsey began accentuating each combination with added turns, grand port de bras, and a head roll flourish.
As we begin to jump, Superman flies through the air, cape blowing in the wake of a grand jete. Gelsey whips out a tambourine for grand allegro. The Monsters Inc. cast snickers in the back corner. Our director pops in to toss a few bite sized candy bars to anyone who nails a pirouette or jumps particularly high.
Sometimes I forget how incredible it is that this is my real life. This is my workplace. This is my job: my colleagues, many of whom are my best friends, dressing up for Halloween and dancing, combining popular culture and superhero costumes with the refined art of classical ballet. Ballet can be painful, exhilarating, difficult, frustrating, rewarding, and exhausting. But the word I would choose to describe it by, over all others (especially on a day like Halloween)? Unique.