From its roots in a converted garage on St. Nicholas Avenue to its current modern space on 152nd Street, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is a cultural treasure worth getting to know. It is home to both the eponymous dance troupe famous for its diversity and a dance school with a legacy of welcoming children from the community.
So when DTH's co-founder Arthur Mitchell died two weeks ago at the age of 84–he was also the focus of a show I saw earlier this year at Columbia's Wallach Art Gallery–I felt a fresh urgency to stop by and see what the trailblazing ballet legend had started. That's when I realized DTH's new season–its 50th!–was just beginning, as were open classes for adults: beginner ballet, fitness classes, and advance-beginner/intermediate ballet ($15 each).
Although any adult can jump in and take one or a series of these evening classes between now and April 2019, I managed to sign up for the first beginner's session of the season, taught by Rita Castro Silva-Bearden.
Wearing my regular gym clothes and a pair of socks (ballet shoes aren't necessary), I joined a small group of adults–most of us were beginners making quite a few mistakes–in a spacious DTH studio that had minutes before been used for a real ballet class, filled with a flock of graceful, leotard-wearing young dancers.
For the following 75 minutes, the very patient Castro Silva-Bearden had us plié, jeté, and practice all manner of other traditional ballet moves. She would first demonstrate a short, easy-to-follow routine and would then play bits of classical music and make us repeat it. We began by holding onto the ballet barre, but later moved to the middle of the studio where we faced the wall of mirrors.
From stretches to cardio, the class offered a true mix of exercise, and I walked out with what I think was a slightly straighter back–and much sorer thigh muscles. I felt thrilled to be a part of this historical-yet-vibrant Harlem institution and plan to be back next week for another round. Hope you'll join!
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