"All right, first one-minute pose starts now," said a student who was keeping time. Leslie took off her cover-up, and I followed suit.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god — I'm naked right now in front of all these people, I thought as I took up my first pose. I had one hand on my left hip and the opposite leg up on my toes; my knee was trembling slightly and I tried to breathe and still it.
I heard the ding of a bell.
"Next pose," the time-keeping student said. I tried another one this time with my arm up by my ear. A minute later, the bell again. I took a different pose. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a student whispering to Mary Jo and I panicked.
Oh god, I must be failing at this, I thought. They hate me as a model. I must be the worst muse ever.
At the next bell, Mary Jo approached the platform where I was standing. "You have to rotate," she said. "You've only been facing one side of the room; the students on the other side are only getting your back."
"Oh!" I almost laughed. "My apologies..." I posed the other way.
After 20 or so one-minute poses, Ellen announced the first five-minute break.
"You're doing a good job," she said as I put my cover-up back on. "Those were good poses." I smiled. Leslie asked me how I was feeling.
"Good — better," I said. "It's not as bad as I thought."
Mary Jo called time and Leslie and I got undressed again for the first 20-minute pose.
"Pick one that's going to be comfortable for 20 minutes," Leslie said. "I'll help you. The last thing you want is for your muscles to cramp up. But if you picked a pose and after the time starts you really can't take it and you're like, 'oh god, this was a mistake,' just say something and they'll let you change."
Leslie suggested a sitting pose to begin with, and I sat down, angled my body to the left, and draped my right arm over the back of the chair.
"Yeah, that looks good," Leslie said. Her pose would be the same for two 20-minute intervals — the perks of being an advanced art model, I suppose.
I had my right leg balanced slightly on my toes again, which I realized was probably not the smartest idea because my quad did start to cramp halfway through.
But I stuck it out, and soon the first 20-minute pose was over. Ellen announced a longer break for the class and Leslie offered to show me around the building a little.
"You know," she added, "if your muscles get tired, try to use other muscle groups to take over at different times. You can also flex, then return to the pose. That's OK to do."
Leslie toured me around the gallery, where each of the different classes displayed their students' work.
The artists whose names had a red sticker next to them were the ones who were deemed to have the best work in the class at that time, Leslie told me. In the class she and I were modeling in, a student named Kenny was the red-sticker winner. Mary Jo also had one next to her name.
Many of the students usually spend the longer break in the cafeteria, which is where Leslie took me next.
A handful of the older students sat at the table having snacks and chatting.
Leslie and I sat down with Kenny for a while, who was eating a couple of hardboiled eggs. Kenny worked for Disney for a short time, she told me. "I also worked doing caricatures in Times Square," he added. "It could be pretty competitive."
Leslie seemed to know everyone in the cafeteria, and greeted them each by name.
It turned out, she's been doing this for a while.
"My mom ran an art studio when I was growing up," Leslie said. "I had — um, body-image issues when I was younger, and that's why I got into it. Cleared it right up." She snapped her fingers.
She's been modeling now for 17 years, she said, and currently does it full time, mainly for the League.
The beauty in doing this wasn't just challenging myself to feel comfortable in my naked body — it was also in seeing my body as artists do: as a work of art, the way every body should be.
Walking around the room after the class was over, seeing the pieces that each of the students completed, I saw my body as a dozen strangers saw it — and it was beautiful.