Ours is a transient town. Students come and graduate; leases are signed and shredded. I imagine we could all write a love letter to one address or another. Not only for the person once inside but to the walls and floor and the furniture no longer there.

This one is for 548 Church St. It’s a big friendly brick thing with bay windows, and I must’ve sprinted up the carpeted steps a thousand times. At the top of the stairs was a small salon, and every week I raced its sparkly fumes down the hall to CAS Ballet Theatre School.

Inside, the sitting room and studio were separated by a folding door. The smallest of us would peek through its wooden slits to watch the older girls dance. They took steps with such certainty and appeared airborne, even before class with backpacks on. We too wanted to dance a pas de deux, to fill the coda in arabesques, to be lifted by the waist, arching backwards, barely missing the ceiling with our toes.

Some of the older girls waitressed at the Brown Jug, some had legs to their ears, and some of them did thirty-two consecutive fouette turns en pointe. We knew, because we counted while watching VHS tapes of past recitals.

Carol Radovic was our director and teacher, costumer, and curator of memories. I came to her an achingly shy three-year-old, hiding behind my mother’s legs. As I picked up plies and extensions, so too I learned to stand socially.

For fifteen years, I was at home with the bounce in the springs beneath the dance floor, the smell of hot sugared waffle cones from Stucchi’s below, the smooth wood of the ballet barre in my palm as I’d tendu my leg en croix: front, side, back, side … shoulders down, stomach and ribs in, back of the neck long, chin up and eyes gazing out the window as Ann Arbor walked past. Once, before it was a crime, I watched the Naked Mile run by. Many of us could count the years in Nutcrackers, where we stretched from Teddy Bear to Tea, Sugar Plum to Snow Queen, Columbine to Clara.

Ballet takes a devotion hard to uphold through growing pains–pirouettes need a solid center to spin, and leaps require momentum to soar. Carol knew how to hold our focus and when to let it rove. “Carpe diem,” she’d say, and take us to Charlie’s for cheddar twists and soda. In the studio, we worked until our calves were nearly numb, but on those trips we spoke uncensored about our new adult lives.

That building is just a building, but it held a whole world. Upstairs, overlooking South U, Tchaikovsky was anthem, adagio was ritual, and Carol was king. We practiced the Russian technique, spoke French terminology, waltzed, and were led in many a great and zany tradition. Fall was for Fragels and cider; in winter, we painted the mirrors with canned snow; on a starry night, we watched Dracula and howled at the full moon.

Eventually, I grew older than the oldest of the girls I’d admired. By then I’d moved east, where clocks spun a little faster. Dancing with the Metropolitan Opera, Beyonce, Saturday Night Live, and on tour, I was gone for fourteen Nutcrackers. By the time I came home this summer, Carol had packed up the school and moved to N. Main St.

When you leave a hometown young, you imagine it suspended in time, an oasis you can return to. I hold Ann Arbor–and that studio–frozen somewhere in my formative years. Whatever real-world changes may come, those places are preserved in my memories.

The bricks of 548 Church St. are steeped in sweat and song, but it wasn’t those walls that made our childhoods twirl, or the sprung floor that gave us grounding. That building is just a building after all, because Carol is teaching in Kerrytown now. She is molding muscles, balancing bones, aligning hips, lengthening limbs, and arching soles. And there are tiny eyes watching in the wings.

The Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker runs November 27-29.