A few evenings later, the heavy double door is opened for me. I walk across the dark brown, antique lobby. A woman calls me upstairs; she sounded quite a bit younger on the phone. She leads me to a dressing room with a large window overlooking the street. There’s no time to feel surprised, because she immediately starts telling me about the school’s renovation. And how she, being an artist, has redesigned the light fixtures. The woman, the teacher, wears a snug, black T-shirt and black leggings with a flowy, equally black skirt. Her heavy eye make-up is smudged, and she keeps apologising for it. But no matter how many times she tries to wipe it off, it just keeps smudging.

When the class ends, a procession of older women enters the dressing room. All of them are dressed in black: long, tight trouser-legs with separate linens tied around their waists or shoulders. Their black eye make-up is smudged, as well. At my age, I am clearly out of place. In the dance studio with mirrors on both sides, I find another teacher, the only one wearing red. She is leaning against a grand piano, which is covered with a dusty tarpaulin. Her make-up isn’t tidy anymore, either.

Everything in this dance school revolves around the woman who founded it. We start with skipping, because that is how Staluse Pera did it. The lesson was pre-recorded, because that is how Staluse Pera did it. We end with yoga, because that is how Staluse Pera did it. I wonder how much actual ballet I will learn here. The abdominal exercises we end the lesson with are slow and heavy going. I can’t keep up and let my legs drop down. Both teachers continue tirelessly. Balancing on their buttocks, they draw their nose and outstretched legs towards each other.

Later on, in an old, digitised TV interview, I see Staluse Pera, in her eighties, prancing through the studio. She is wearing a lacy outfit and joking with the interviewer. About her vanity, the bikini she wore in the eighties, the father of her child, whom she never married. She not only teaches her pupils how to dance, but also a way to carry themselves. A self-confidence to take on the world. Walking is not just about plopping one foot down in front of the other, but also unfolding the legs with each and every step: each step is an arc. Strong and flexible; Staluse Pera means steel spring.

She died over twenty years ago, but the teachers, who learned a lot from her, still speak fondly of her.  They talk about wanting to take a trip to a house in France, which apparently still houses a great deal of their teacher’s archive material. I keep wondering what the women I met today were like in the past. How must it feel to grow older and no longer have the privilege of good looks? They don’t look unhappy. They come together at Staluse Pera Ballet School out of an appreciation of dance and a devotion to their bodies. Bodies that gush memories. These women are not finished dancing yet.

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