Tackling Dance Classes in a New Country

By: Hannah Rezendes 

Dance has been a constant my whole life. I literally learned to walk on my tippy toes and my parents had to teach me how to walk flat-footed. At age three I started ballet, and I haven’t stopped since. Coming to Florence was the first time in my life where I wasn’t sure if I could keep dancing. But I applied to take company ballet classes with the Scuola di dance Hamlyn and got accepted! I was so excited, there was just one thing that made me a little nervous/apprehensive: I don’t speak Italian. 

I woke up Thursday, September 7th, with a mix of excitement and nerves as it was my first ballet class here in Florence. There are many nerve-wracking firsts when you study abroad, such as getting on the airplane or the first day of orientation. But specifically for this ballet class I was nervous about the language barrier. I know very little Italian, like the basic greetings and how to order at a restaurant, but a two-hour ballet class is something I did not feel prepared for. However, my walk to the ballet school helped calm my nerves. This walk consists of me walking past the Duomo, through Piazza Republica, past a local flower market and over the Arno River on the famous Ponte Vecchio. September in Florence is my favorite temperature, so this walk is also a refreshing time for me to look around, breathe in fresh air and ground myself; it is yet another reminder of how lucky I am to be given this opportunity to live in Florence, Italy for four months.   

After my 20-minute walk, I arrived at the studio. I took a deep breath, reached for the door handle, and stared blankly at the door as there was a sign in Italian telling me how to get in. Here we go.  

I looked inside the building to see that Elisa, a teacher at the school, was motioning me to ring the bell outside so I could get let in. Ringing a bell to be let inside is something that is very common here in Florence, but at this time I had only been in the city for a little over a week, so I had not been exposed to that system yet. Once I was let into the building, I was greeted with two kisses on the cheeks as Elisa and I exchanged “ciaos” and “Buongiorno’s”.  

The Scuola di dance Hamlyn is part of the Palazzo Ricasoli, which is a gorgeous, old palace that was built in 1520. I look around to find an ancient mural that covers all four walls and the ceiling of the studio. It is beautiful. I get myself settled, take in the view, and soon enough ballet class is starting.  

At first it was very overwhelming for me as the teacher and students seemed to be speaking Italian at a very fast pace. I could recognize ballet steps as those are in French, but as for everything else, I sensed I was in way above my head. I felt like I was three years old again. However, after a few combinations at the barre, I was able to relax. I looked around and realized that I looked the same as everyone else. We were all dressed the same. We were all doing the same movements with our arms and legs. We were all ballerinas, despite that fact that I did not speak the same language as them.   

I’ve heard the saying that dance is a universal language, but this was my first time truly embodying that quote. Dance is a visual art, and I am definitely using that to my advantage. When the teacher wants to give me a correction, she will use her eyes and hands to help rearrange my body instead of using words, and I am finding this technique to be very helpful. Elisa did tell me in English that Italians “like to yell and like to touch” in their ballet class. The structure of these ballet classes definitely reflects some aspects of Italian culture – most things are more relaxed and therefore less stressful here.  

I now go to a class every Wednesday and Thursday, which has helped me build a routine here in Florence. Being able to take these ballet classes has helped me feel at home here immediately, while also allowing me to appreciate the Italian culture in a full immersion, hands-on experience. I did not know what life was going to be like in Florence, and I am still discovering new things every day, but I am so grateful that dance is a part of my journey studying abroad here in Florence.  

Hannah Rezendes (’25) is a Psychology and Dance Double Major studying abroad in Italy at API Semester Business, Arts, Humanities, Italian Language and Culture in Florence

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