Dancing in the Dark with Bárbara Fritsche

By Rachel Straus

Developing a proficiency in a dance form has its perks, especially if you travel. In any foreign city or town a dance studio can become your temporary home. Inside its four walls, you’re no longer a tourist. It doesn’t matter if you understand the language spoken by the teacher. Dance is overwhelmingly taught by copying what is demonstrated. A good set of eyes and a willing smile are crucial.

Take my recent experience in Madrid’s Centro de Danza Karen Taft with contemporary instructor Bárbara Fritsche. The class began at 8:45 p.m., when most U.S. studios are shuttering their doors. The school can be found in the barrio Chueca, famed for its gay bars and discos. As the street lights illumined, the black-clad Fritsche began her class without turning on a single overhead light. Only in Madrid, the city of the night, would teaching in the dark be just fine.

Fritsche explained in Spanish, inflected by her German accent, how her warm-up was set, how one should follow along as best as one can. The challenge of embodying Fritsche’s continuous motions, both exquisitely beautiful and organically fashioned, required every bit of my concentration. The goal became clear: To try not to hurt myself. I couldn’t bother with being nervous, maybe because I’d arrived on a red eye a few hours before and was exhausted. Maybe it was because Fritsche could see me about as well as I could see her, which it to say, not very.

In the gloom, Fritsche’s warmup gave clues to her dance experiences. (She is a graduate of Dresden’s famed Palucca School). Her warmup incorporates ballet’s leg articulations, the Graham technique’s contractions of the spine, the Humphrey-Limon technique’s fall and rebound, the Horton technique’s extreme side bends of the upper body, and the Release Technique’s ceaseless movement from floor to standing.  By the time we learned the culminating dance study, steadily built over the past four classes, I was drenched with sweat.

Since no one could execute her choreography with any degree of accuracy, Fritsche became mildly frustrated. Herein lies the downside of teaching open classes in big cities: Students come and go; their training is uneven, spotty or not extensive enough. Nonetheless, Fritsche didn’t dumb down her intermediate-advanced level class for the sake of her students. As was the case with Martha Graham, Fritsche appeared to find inspiration by performing her dance phrases. She made choreography, not routines. And her resume confirms this. Last year she was commissioned by Madrid’s leading contemporary dance troupe, Compania Nacional de Danza. She also performs; her body is in peak condition.

A little before 11:00 p.m., Fritsche ended the class. As is the tradition, everyone clapped. Perhaps because I wasn’t the greatest offender of Fritsche’s two-minute choreography, I was asked by my fellow classmates (four Spaniards, ages 20 to 30, and one Pennsylvanian on a Fullbright) when I would return. Soon, I said.  Soon!

Barbara Fritsche’s website page at Centro de Danza Karen Taft

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