I have done ballet since I was five years old, so I was very excited to take ballet class every week during my semester in Kyoto at K.Classic Ballet Studio. Initial contact was a bit daunting, as it involved painstakingly reviewing rather simple emails to make sure they didn’t involve any embarrassing keigo mishaps. My first day at the studio, I was very nervous, wondering how out-of-place I would look and feel. However, as we took our places at the barre to begin class, I felt completely at home.
The etiquette in a typical ballet class shares a lot in common with that of Japanese society. Politeness and humility, especially toward one’s teacher and to older students, are essential, as is following the rules of classical dance. Uniformity is emphasized; the students all wear a similar style of leotard, tights, and ballet slippers. Even the Japanese rule of not wearing street shoes indoors applies to ballet studios. I realized that having grown up taking ballet classes helped me to adjust to life in Japan.
The content of ballet classes here is comfortingly familiar. The same French ballet terms are used, although they are uttered in Kansai-ben. Our teacher is very direct in her critique, and ballet class is the only setting in Japan in which most of the Japanese I hear is in command form. However, although class is very formal, the students have been very welcoming. I feel that we relate to each other because of our shared love for ballet and because of our shared lifestyles, which have been shaped by ballet.
Through my classes at K.Classic Ballet, I have been able to challenge myself to branch out beyond the community at KCJS and Doshisha. Ballet classes themselves do not offer much opportunity for communication practice, as everyone, besides the teacher, is expected to be silent. It was the moments in the dressing room when I worked up the courage to ask someone their name or to compliment their dancing—and the conversations which stemmed from these initial remarks—which were the most rewarding regarding interaction with the other ballet students. In my experience, taking initiative to interact with my CIP peers, along with choosing an activity I am truly passionate about, have definitely been key to having a meaningful community experience in Kyoto.