The Studio On The Fourth Floor

For two years I came to the studio on the fourth floor, overlooking the corner of Broadway and 74th street. Always I took my same place at the barre–I feel it is my place still even though I have yet to stand there again, in that room, for many months now. The wood was cold and splintery and each morning as I first felt my touch upon it, fleetingly I had the sensation that this was what it meant to belong to a specific place, to a specific time. It was only a moment, but it was vast. Soon the music started: soft, indefinite piano music, and I too began my exercise, bending into the primary plié which led way to all else. My face in the mirror was pale and serious; sometimes in the midst of movement I would catch sight of it and be struck by how very still it seemed. The jaw was taut with lips parting slightly; the eyes were glazed over to a point of intensity–it was my face but I couldn’t know the near mystery through which it was passing. As the barre progressed in speed and difficulty, the beating of my heart grew more rapid and profound until I was reduced, as if reborn, to the simplicity of my own breath. At once I had become the earth again and left its sphere entirely. In a ballet studio everything is grey and light and moving towards something else; faintness becomes the walls, the voices, the city expanding beyond–the ballet studio is that other world within this one. Briefly between exercises I would glimpse out the window, onto the street below, and be held for an instant by the belief that I was not of it, that I was not walking in the same way as all those that went there. Back raised above, limbs unfurling themselves, flying and falling together and apart, near and distant; ever so slightly my grip would tighten, bone white knuckles first. Concave slopes of body pitching into themselves, my thinness in the mirror further slipping like a sigh to its depths–a depth both interior and foreign, reachable only by such a strange path as music. Pain had due presence in cracking joints and cramping muscles and bruised toenails, but the most wounding of all was what was felt at the moment when–riding the crest wave of the music–the last note had fallen. Then the barre was finished, sweat was only sweat again, wholeness once known was only to be perceived in fragments of fatigue. Yet still how absolute a fatigue: the last vestige of an existence so great and purifying it left nothing of the body but pain.

Of course there would be other barres, and yet, there would be no others. My last class at that barre, transpiring almost exactly two years to the day since the first had elapsed, and without even knowing itself, was a final reverence of sorts. I went away, to a different studio, in a different city, on a different continent, and by the time I did make my way back to New York, it was not myself who was returning but some other accumulation of memories, some other reckoning of existence, which had taken on a new form. They say the ultimate happiness is coming home, and I suppose that would be true if only… if only.

Occasionally I pass the building on the corner of Broadway and 74th street, on foot or by taxi, and look up into the windows of the studio I knew–I am of this street as all the others are, I am walking in the same way that they are. Yet it is impossible; so much of myself is still standing at that barre, living in that mirror, removed and looking down at the very scene which I have just happened through. The weight of me is pushing into the past. And from the past. And beyond the past.

In that studio, I have known something like love, but stronger, more enduring, and in that vein I have known something like agony too–I cannot say how but only that the substance of which those days were made, I am made of forever, and forever is a river that flows two ways. Writing this, I have received a crushing blow, a new understanding of time, for I understand it now to be that substance. Perhaps then, if once, standing at the barre, I felt what it was to share in the great, bloodless, pulsating, impassive continuance of the world–I have felt it always. Time is not a tiger but a ballerina, the ballerina which destroys me and is me.

They also say that once you miss a place, a time, you will miss it evermore and god, I hope that they, whoever “they” really are, are right. I hope my capacity to miss–my terrible, still-widening capacity–never wilts beneath such a pressure as the imaginary future. And yet, I don’t want to return; I couldn’t. The essence of stillness I found reflected upon my face in the mirror seems to have transformed into the memory of that period–everything has crystalized more beautifully than I was ever able to live it. Other images endure: the subway station I would wait at after ballet to take the train to school, my bedroom then, with its window in the back of the building just catching a glimpse of the trees across Central Park West, the faces of people in passing I didn’t expect to memorize and later mourn. Now that they have all left me, they have become more rightfully mine; this shift feels like the birth of a new power.

Here I see myself: In the morning, I am walking down Broadway with my heavy bag, headed towards 74th street. It is 2016. It is raining, or snowing, or perhaps it is even a beautiful day. I am waiting outside the building on the corner; no one has come to unlock the door yet, it’s still far too early for most. A silence rarely found in this city resonates within the street, within me, completely separate and hardly to be disrupted by the vendors unloading their trucks of produce at Fairway. This silence grows and grows and soon begins to warm my body, preparing it for the work ahead–someone comes to open the door and I enter the building as if to enter an eternity. Here I see myself: In the afternoon, I am seated at a nondescript desk, bent over a notebook. It is 2018. It is raining, or snowing, or perhaps it is even a beautiful day, and I am writing to remember, to dance with these words as I never will again.

But that is only something of the way it was, for a girl of about sixteen, the two years I spent coming to the studio on the fourth floor.

By Phoebe R., 18, New York, New York