I started taking ballet when I was four years old. I happily pranced around in a pink leotard and tights for a time, then, after six years, I decided I had spent enough years of my life struggling to pull my short hair back into a neat bun and learning French words that were still meaningless to me. Instead, I played sports and went to the mall and the movies with friends.
In junior high, I rediscovered my love for dance when I took classes in jazz and West African dance. Then, in high school I began taking flamenco. I had been studying Spanish since the age of five and immediately loved the way that practicing flamenco allowed me to move my body with strength and grace while also improving my Spanish and learning about Spanish culture. I traveled to southern Spain after graduating from high school and admired the bold bailaoras (flamenco dancers) who moved fearlessly across the stages of Spain. After returning to the United States, I continued studying flamenco and also returned to ballet. I was fortunate to find an amazing ballet teacher who encouraged me to grow and develop as a dancer (even at the ripe age of 18). I also learned to appreciate the ritualistic aspects of dance: putting on a leotard, coming to the barre and moving through the same exercises each class.
When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina the spring semester of my junior year of college, I knew I wanted to continue dancing in the land of tango and home of famous ballerinas, Paloma Herrera and Marianela Núñez. A few weeks into my study abroad program, I found a ballet studio relatively close to my apartment. I put on my tights and leotard, grabbed my ballet slippers and nervously entered the bright blue building that housed Estudio Olga Ferri Enrique Lommi. I stood in the entrance to the studio and admired the framed and signed photographs of famous ballerinas. On the bottom of a picture of Paloma Herrera, it read: “To my dear teacher Olga…” I then waited in the dressing room with a handful of young girls and women waiting for class to start. I watched as more and more girls entered the room, each stopping to greet everyone, including myself, with a kiss on the (right) cheek.
A few minutes before the class was scheduled to start I followed the rest of the women from the dressing room into the ballet studio on the upper floor. The studio was a large, beautiful room with wooden floors and windows painted with red trim. After the class ahead of mine ended, I found a spot at the barre and began to stretch. The teacher walked around and greeted students and then stopped and introduced herself to me. Her name was Gisela. She was friendly and said I was welcome to ask her to clarify what she was saying if I was ever confused.
The class moved quickly and I stumbled through many of the exercises, but, for once, I was grateful that the exercises were in French. It struck me, even as I struggled through the exercises, how similar the structure of the class and the movements were to the classes I had taken in the United States. There were, of course, some subtle differences, but the kinds of exercises and movements were largely the same. At the end of my first class at the studio, I said “gracias” to the teacher, kissed her on the cheek and promised to return to more classes in the future.
I continued to take classes at the studio, both with Gisela and with the studio owner, Marisa Ferri. Marisa is perhaps one of the most inspiring teachers I have ever had the privilege to take classes from. She talks about dance as being both an art and way to communicate with freedom, even across cultures. Sometimes she would share stories about her Aunt, Olga Ferri, a world-famous ballerina known for being Paloma Herrera’s teacher and one of the studio’s founders.
As I continued taking classes at the studio, I learned more about Olga Ferri and the studio’s history. Since my first class at the studio, I had been impressed by some of the youngest dancers in my classes, who moved effortlessly and I later learned that many of the young dancers who took classes at the studio also trained at Teatro Colón, the main theater and premier ballet company in Argentina. I was impressed by how much both the people I met at the ballet studio and Argentinians generally appreciated the arts. It was difficult to find an Argentinian who hadn’t heard of Paloma Herrera.
By the time I took my last class at Estudio Olga Ferri Enrique Lommi, I greeted the other students as friends and chatted with them casually before the beginning of class. I moved through the exercises with greater ease, encouraged by the teacher yelling, “Mejor!” (better). I had many life-changing experiences while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, but taking classes with Argentinians at Estudio Olga Ferri Enrique Lommi was one of my favorite opportunities. It allowed me to get to know Argentinians and learn about Argentine history and culture while also practicing an art form that helps me to feel grounded and appreciate an art form that transcends cultural divides.
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Caroline Perris is a student at the University of Puget Sound and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler’s Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina.