When Trimbur first came into the room cosplaying as a snobby ballet company’s artistic director in a black trench coat, I wondered if my impulse decision was a mistake. I soon realized the intent was for us to pretend we were rebellious dancers fed up with the impossibly perfectionistic standards of our ballet company.
- Angela Trimbur, actress, writer, dancer, choreographer, and creator of dance classes Balletcore and Thirteen
The barre warm-up was set to a classical version of Sam Smith’s Unholy by Vitamin String Quartet and combined traditional tendus (a ballet exercise where you extend your leg by brushing your foot along the floor) with us swinging under the barre like a monkey and using its end like a pole on which to grind. As in a traditional ballet class, we were told to keep our middle fingers slightly separated from the rest, pointing downward—but with the idea that we were holding imaginary cigarettes in what Trimbur calls "a rebellious internal wink" to the typical ballet narrative. Instead of the anxiety-inducing across-the-floor combinations I remember from adolescence, here, we were told to walk across the room like an uptight dancer who “needs to take a sh*t.”
Once we started to come out of our shells like we were, as Trimbur described in the class, “peeping out of our tight butt holes for the first time,” it was time for the choreography—which was inspired by the epic dance number at the end of my favorite dance movie Center Stage. But instead of learning the counts for specific moves, as we’d be instructed to do in a typical dance class, we were told to tell a story with our body. “There’s no right or wrong timing with it,” Trimbur told us. “It’s just up to your interpretation.” In the first half of the piece, set to music by the quintessential ballet composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, we imagined ourselves as ballerinas longing to break free. When the music shifted to Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat, as it does in the movie, we let go of ballet’s rigid rules and just danced—not for aesthetics, but for joy.
The makings of an anti-perfection ballet class
Revolting against the exclusionary perfectionism that ballet requires and represents feels especially liberating as a full-grown adult, which is precisely the point. Trimbur’s idea for the class came when she attended an adult beginner ballet class in New York City in the hopes of reigniting her childhood love for dance but ended up disappointed with the focus on perfect technique. As the daughter of a dance studio owner, Trimbur grew up dancing both in her mom’s classes and at home, where she moved freely and intuitively. “That’s when I felt the happiest, when I was dancing with my sister in the living room and creating performances for my parents,” Trimbur tells me in an interview.
When Trimbur started teaching Thirteen—a lyrical dance class set to pop-music favorites like Madonna’s Like A Prayer—in November 2021, she discovered that people had what she calls ballet baggage. “People would be like, ‘I want to come to one of your classes, but I haven’t danced in so long, and I just can’t step foot in another class,’” says Trimbur. These were the people who were constantly criticized or made to feel like they weren't good enough in ballet classes as a kid, such that attending any dance class would feel like a traumatic experience—and yet, it didn't make them miss dancing any less. This feedback, coupled with her own disappointing adult ballet experience, inspired Trimbur to launch Balletcore.
Trimbur intends for Balletcore to chip away at the protective shells that keep so many people from the joy of dance.
Trimbur intends for the anti-perfection ballet class to chip away at the protective shells that keep so many people from the joy of dance, whether they’re a former dancer who was forced to give up their dream of becoming a professional, or they were just discouraged from taking dance lessons as a child for one reason or another. “There’s this weird block that people get in their heads at some point of their childhood when they were made to feel insecure about the way they move,” says Trimbur. “I encourage people to be rebel ballerinas—I want the class to have this ‘f*ck perfection’ feeling.”
Her encouragement appears to be working. Regulars show up in ripped tights, and when Trimbur criticizes them for being late, they don’t hesitate to throw the sass right back at her. “I want people to embrace this rebellious feeling and release the people-pleasing part of their personality,” says Trimbur. Looking around the studio, it’s clear that rebelling against ballet can also act as restitution for those who were scarred by the dance tradition growing up.
Losing myself—and my connection to my body—to movement
When I started dancing at age 15 (too late by typical dance standards), I quickly realized I didn’t have the body for ballet. No matter how much I tried to lengthen my limbs, they would only stretch so far. Thankfully, I was at a performing arts high school in Toronto that was a rare utopia of acceptance. Instead of trying to get a seat at the restrictive ballet table, I leaned into dance forms that I was told better suited my body, like contemporary and jazz. I was critiqued on my technique, but I never experienced the kind of traumatic criticism that is stereotypical of ballet.
Dance had always been cathartic for me, but somewhere along the way, I lost the plot. At my university, dance classes were too expensive, so I started going to the gym instead. For the first few years, I found the same release through exercise.
But eventually, working out became my only form of self care. When life started to feel more out of control, I began to force control on my body. Three gym visits a week gradually turned into five, and soon enough, I was going every day. After my mom suddenly died, I filled the void by going to the gym twice a day—once for a workout and the other for a yoga class. Movement shifted from being the portal through which I entered my body to the portal through which I escaped it.
Movement shifted from being the portal through which I entered my body to the portal through which I escaped it.
Coupled with the increase in exercise was a decrease in eating—another means of enacting control when I felt like I had none. Eventually, I was so disconnected from my body that I lost too much weight and needed to quit exercise entirely. In the three years since, I’ve struggled to cope with difficult emotions without movement. Now, my goal is not to control my physical being but to embody it.
Healing my relationship to my body in Angela Trimbur's Balletcore
While I’m still learning how to be in my body, I’m approaching exercise cautiously. But Trimbur’s anti-perfection ballet classes don’t feel like exercise; they feel like the reason I fell in love with dance in the first place: It’s emotional expression through movement.
It was while jumping like a kid in Trimbur’s class—my knees not cushioning my landing like they used to, but my smile impossible to contain—that I realized I’ll never reach my current goal of embodiment so long as I strive for perfection. The two are incompatible. Watching Center Stage as a young girl, I took away the deceptive idea that striving for excellence and impeccable beauty will make me happy long-term, even if it’s tough in the moment. The problem with the pursuit of perfectionism is that, much like the continuous pirouette in the movie’s final scene, it has no end. It’s never enough.
In Balletcore, success is measured not by your technique or how well you remember the choreography, but by how much you’re able to let go and be comfortable with yourself. “There’s no correct way to look; there’s a correct way to feel, and that’s being completely okay with what your body does,” says Trimbur. “It’s so sad to think there are so many people who are holding themselves back from the literal joy [they could feel] if they just stopped thinking that they have to look like a Beyoncé back-up dancer when they move.”
I know what Trimbur means. I’ve attended other dance classes as an adult, and while they are certainly more therapeutic to me than going to the gym, I still get in my head about not looking cool enough. In Balletcore, being weird and uninhibited and just totally yourself is cool. “I want people to laugh, to feel silly, and I don’t want it to be taken too seriously,” says Trimbur.
“There’s no correct way to look; there’s a correct way to feel, and that’s being completely okay with what your body does.” —Angela Trimbur, choreographer and creator of Balletcore
Since attending several of Trimbur’s classes over the past four months, I’ve noticed the pre-class nerves shift to excitement—I’ve started to look forward to the nearly two-hour container in which I can feel as free as a kid again, and even more, to the post-class confidence high.
Trimbur tells me she notices people become more comfortable with themselves the more classes they attend. The first-timers are distinguishable, she says, by their athletic wear, while the regulars play the part, showing up in colorful leg-warmers, tutus, and ballet shoes. “There’s a whole evolution I see visually,” Trimbur says. “I think the transformation sometimes hits after; the class is still working days later because you’re still processing and thinking about it, being more and more gentle with yourself.”
While I’ve yet to embrace my totally uninhibited, messy self outside the studio, I’ve noticed a shift in how I treat my body. Practicing being more at ease in my body in Balletcore has helped me relearn embodiment and how to listen to my body—I now rest when I’m tired and don’t push myself like I used to. Making mistakes and being intentionally imperfect in class has made me less perfectionistic in my work, too. I don’t proofread my emails anymore, and I release my writing and photography into the world even when I feel like it could still be better. (After all, it could always be better.) “There’s a freeness that bleeds into everything when you’re more gentle on yourself,” says Trimbur.
Other Balletcore regulars tell Trimbur the class has made them more playful outside the studio, and they’re not beating themselves up as much in their jobs and relationships. “They’re not taking themselves as seriously anymore,” she says.
It turns out being gentle with yourself is contagious, as Trimbur herself finds her anti-perfection ballet class to be like therapy. “It’s very healing for me to feel like I can help other people heal, too, because I’ve learned how to do that by being gentle on myself,” she says. “Knowing that the class is letting people live their lives with a spring in their step makes me feel like I have a purpose—this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
At the end of my first Balletcore class, we cooled down to Mandy Moore’s I Wanna Be With You (another Center Stage classic) and were told to freestyle across the room. “No one’s watching,” Trimbur assured us. At first I was skeptical, but once we started twirling around the space, she was right—no one seemed to be looking at anyone else, much less passing any judgment. After such a therapeutic class, we were just more at ease in our bodies, moving not to look perfect or to look any particular type of way, but to feel free.
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