You'll never be a ballerina,” Fernando Aguilera, former Vaganova Ballet dancer and now choreographer, master Ballet and performer and artistic director at Imperial Fernando Ballet Company (IFBC) tells me with a bright smile, leading me to the black bars lining one side of the dance studio at Temperance, Bandra.
I’m taking a trial class in Vaganova Ballet, one of the six forms of Ballet. The others are Bournonville, created by the Danish ballet master August Bournonville; Balanchine, invented by choreographer George Balanchine and the Cecchetti, devised by Italian ballet master Enrico Cecchetti.
(L to R) Fernando Aguilera, artistic director at Imperial Fernando Ballet Company, teaches Phorum Dalal the basic steps of Ballet at Temperance, Bandra. Aguilera has worked with Remo D’Souza and Prabhudeva for the upcoming film — One Two Three Four. Pics/Nimesh Dave
“To be a ballet performer, you must begin at the age of four, but that doesn’t mean you will be wasting your time if you decide to join now,” he says, smiling kindly at my crestfallen face. “Ballet is an intense physical activity that will help burn calories through cardio vascular exercises, demands great posture from your arms and shoulders, and leaves you with a floating, relaxed feeling,” says Fernando, as I follow his instructions, placing my hands on the rod which is at waist level.
A sharp stretch shoots up my calf muscles the minute I turn my toes outward to form a near-180 degree shape with my feet. I can sense the dance form’s similarity to Bharatanatyam, the Indian classical dance in which I trained for seven years. This will be easy, I think to myself — only to realise soon enough how wrong I am.
“For adults, even four to 10 degrees is a good start,” he says, as he asks me to tighten my butt and pull my stomach in. He pokes into my scapula in an attempt to square my back. By now, muscles I didn’t even know existed in my body, are making their presence felt as they stretch about.
Posture in place, Fernando demonstrates the hand gestures. My thumb touches the centre of my index and middle finger. “Once you have attended a few more classes, your thumb should not touch your fingers,” he chides.
Ballet, I learn, is all about flexibity, posture, balance, grace, expressions, coordination and synchronisation — all this to the tune of piano music. “You allow the music to lead you, turn out your feet, feel the stretch and the pain, while holding that smile on your face,” says Fernando, maintaining the poise of a dancer. He then takes me through a back stretch, which is divided into three steps that target the upper and lower back, and then have me tilt my head. That done, he instructs me to hold this posture, which send my feet into shivers. “You need exercise,” he chides, instructing me to gently come back to my first posture of turn out. By now, beads of sweat have formed on my forehead, even as Fernando seems to glide on the floor, gracefully.
The first half hour of the session is conducted using the bar, after which we move to the centre of the class, repeating the same movement, minus the support of the bar. The real test begins here.
I bend my knees — alternately half-squatting and full-squatting on my toes. He asks me to rise gracefully, returning to my turn out position. “If you hold your posture in place, you will rise without any trouble,” he says.
Fernando, who refuses to reveal his age, told his mother he wanted to be a ballet dancer after he saw a performance on television at the age of 10. “My father refused, telling me boys are supposed to play football, and not train to be a Ballerino — male dancer. My mother took me to a ballet school where the teacher saw my talent. She trained me and sent me to Colon Theatre Ballet School,” says Fernando, one of the three boys in his first class among 50-odd girls. He came to New Delhi from Buenos Aires from to set up IFBC in 1998, runs 10 centres and teaches 1,600 students in the capital. It was during a trip to India that he gave a demo class in the capital. The rest is history.
“After a few initial demos, I realised India was a good place to teach something new. That same year I met my business partner Mohammed Rafi, who since then has been the company’s business mind and event planner,” says Fernando, who admits he hates India’s weather — “It’s either too cold or too hot,” — but fell in love with its warm-hearted people, butter chicken and dal makhani.
The company will offer professional diploma courses and conduct exams for children aged between four and six, and seven and 12. Classes for adults include beginners and advance batches. The company has also conducted individual training for dancers, who have later joined American Ballet School and even Colon Ballet School, Argentina.
Fifteen minutes into the session, I am convinced this is a class I want to attend after a long day of sitting at my desk in office. The first session left me with the ‘floating’ feeling Fernando promised. I walked out with a spring in my step and a flutter in my heart, not to mention a pleasantly sore body.