Hallways and Tulle

Guibord's North Country School of Dance is the prima ballerina of ballet schools

Story and photos by Felicia Bonanno

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Guibord's School of Dance offers several dance studios and other amenities.

I was a bit confused when I opened the glass door to Guibord’s School of Dance, and parents came pouring out with swarms of toddlers around them.

“Am I at the right building?” I asked myself. I checked the words on the door again. Yup, this was definitely it. I set foot inside after holding the door open for a few more moms, dads, and excited-looking little kids and found myself standing at one end of a long hallway. At the other end of the hallway were tables built for people, say, oh, 3 feet tall, and toys and scribbly artwork decorated the walls. I second-guessed myself again. Maybe Guibord’s wasn’t a ballet school at all, but a daycare center for tots…

Finally, I spotted a door to my right. The sign on the door read “NCBE upstairs”. I had found what I was looking for, the North Country Ballet Ensemble.

Right through the door was a steep, carpeted staircase and a tall, wooden shoe cubby (most of the shoes it held were right in the middle of the tall case, so I knew I had left the realm of little people). When I reached the top of the staircase a woman in a purple turtleneck was taping a poster to a wall. She turned when she heard my footsteps and smiled. She immediately broke the stereotypical, snobbish ballet instructor attitude that I have often encountered with her warm smile and pleasant handshake.

“You must be the one who called,” she said, smiling. I had called in advance to see if I could come in and observe a dance class. When I moved to Plattsburgh, N.Y., I stopped dancing for months, the longest break I have taken in eight years of ballet. I wanted to start up again, and someone had adamantly recommended Guibord’s. I was soon to find out for myself if their praises could be backed.

Ms. Guibord immediately offered to show me around. First, she showed me the waiting area. Low tables and tiny chairs were stationed around a narrow room. There was a big, comfy chair and some toys stacked about. At the end of the room was another door and another long hallway, only this one was wider, and Nutcracker costumes and tutus were hung on either side. The place felt like one hallway after another, but it wasn’t at all uncomfortable or creepy. All the way at the end, through the alley of pink and white tulle and magical suits with gold buttons, I just got a glimpse of where she told me her office was. I felt like Clara in the middle of the world of the Nutcracker.

Back through the waiting area, Ms. Guibord led me through yet another hallway and suddenly declared, “This is the bathroom.” I hadn’t realized we had walked into a restroom. To my right was a long row of sinks on a marble countertop with Silk soap bottles and a large mirror. To my left, another doorway with three shiny black stalls inside. A tall picture of a ballerina standing en pointe was hung on the immaculate walls, and it smelled like air freshener.

Past the row of sinks was the locker room. Yes, a locker room. The room was about the size of my dorm room, with small, square lockers stacked on top of each other and a wooden bench all around them. It was just the right size for your purse and clothes.

“Now I’ll show you the studios,” Ms. Guibord said. We traveled back to the spot where we had first met a few minutes ago at the top of the staircase so that I could remove my shoes. To the left of the staircase was a small room with mirrors—the children’s studio. Seeing it through the eyes of an adult, I thought it looked clean and professional. Had I been a little girl again, my heart might have skipped with excitement for all the sparkly headbands and wands on the wall and fun looking exercise balls I could see, even though the light was off.

Finally, the “big kid” studio. What immediately struck me was how spacious it was—about three times the size of the children’s one, and at least twice the size of any studio I had danced in before. Mirrors covered two walls from top to bottom, and the long wall at the far right reminded me of garage doors, with smaller, square windows stationed up high. Beneath the high windows was a metal pole attached to the wall, like the ones found in the handicap bathroom stall. The other barre, the wooden one, was attached to the only reflection-less wall. The marley floor squeaked when I walked across it to sit in a lone, cushioned chair against the wall. Duct tape was placed along the seams across the entire floor.

The enormous mirrors were decorated with bright snowflake and Christmas lights, and a small television was suspended in a corner. I waited for only a few seconds before Ms. Guibord’s Grade 5 class came prancing in through the door in a group. There were five of them, all thin, beautiful, young and smiling in different colored leotards and with their hair pulled back into a bun. They all gathered around me.

“Girls, why don’t you introduce yourselves?” Ms. Guibord said kindly.

They took turns telling me their first names and smiling.

“My name is Felicia,” I said.

“That’s pretty,” said a girl in a red leotard.

Ms. Guibord told them all to get ready and they immediately obeyed, finding a spot at the barre and stretching independently. One girl pulled out a jump rope and did twenty reps before sipping from the water fountain and heading back to do a runner’s stretch.

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One of the many hallways in the North Country Ballet School, complete with ballet shoes.

When it was time to start, Ms. Guibord stood at one corner of the room giving verbal instructions about what the first exercise at the barre would be—a slow plié combination. Then, she disappeared behind the corner (to another hallway), said “Ready…and,” and pressed play on the stereo.

The girls all gracefully placed their hands on the barre and performed the exercise immaculately, it seemed to me, although Ms. Guibord took a seat on a stool and watched, saying things like, “Keep your back straight, Meghan,” and , “This is a very slow song so make the most of each note with your plié.”

She then walked around from girl to girl, fixing their posture by placing one hand on the girl’s back and another on the girl’s belly and straightening her out. She repositioned their heads, hands and feet, as well, as each student gracefully took the criticism and improved immediately.

When the song was up prematurely, Ms. Guibord kept counting the beat so the girls could finish the exercise through. They didn’t lose their rhythm for a second, and were ready to take the next verbal queues for the next exercise and to begin again with grace and ease.

“Ready, and…” Piano music played. For each exercise the girls rotated, moving up a place on the barre. For a couple of the more advanced girls, the instructor gave more complicated instructions, such as two pirouettes rather than one. In between each exercise at least one girl sashayed to the water fountain and then promptly returned. 

“All right, time for abs,” said Ms. Guibord. All five girls went to the floor and lied down on their backs. Their instructor began counting as they extended their legs one at a time in the air and lifted their torso obediently. Ms. Guibord said they could stop if they felt it was too much, but not one of them took a break until the counting was up. “Oh, the joy of working abdominals,” Ms. Guibord smiled at me again. Her class smiled, too. They seemed to genuinely love and respect their instructor.

When it was time for floor work, Ms. Guibord again gave verbal instructions that the girls understood at once and performed flawlessly. She would occasionally stop the music to stand in front of the mirror and demonstrate how they should hold their arms and head, and they would each practice diligently behind her. I could see the concentration on their faces as they scrutinized themselves in the mirror to model exactly after their teacher. I might as well not have existed as these girls were so lost in concentration.

When it was time to leave, Ms. Guibord offered me a ride so that I wouldn’t have to take a taxi back. “I know how it is, and it’s not that far. I don’t mind,” she said. My friend had texted me that she would pick me up, so I didn’t take up Ms. Guibord’s offer this time.

“See you soon!” she said as I left.

The girls all said goodbye to me in unison. I felt like I was in one of those movies about an all-girls boarding school where the students are all perfect and polite, only they seemed very genuine and had been so welcoming.

I would love to be a part of Guibord’s clean, kind, studious school of dance with all of its hallways and lockers and beautiful studios.

Yes, you will see me soon, I thought, as I descended the carpeted stairs back through the land of little people.

APN gives Guibord’s North Country School of Dance 5 out of 5 stars.

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