Wednesday, February 6, 2013


No, not the fancy-pants drink you buy at coffee shops.  I am talking about the ballet term, a word that means "to strike" in French, and involves hitting the floor with one's foot.  Intentionally.  

I started taking ballet when I was in second grade.  It was my extra-curricular activity all through elementary, middle, and high school, the way many people played soccer and softball.  It's hard to tell how good I was; for the studio I danced at, I suppose I was in the top tier.  I briefly switched studios my sophomore year, where I fell the back of the class in soft shoes, but got to move up when it came to pointe.  Go figure.  (I had to take six months off after I sprained my ankle walking down a flight of stairs.  The doctor asked me not to dance many more.  Ever.  I went back to my former studio after that, to finish off my high school career.)

After high school, I stopped for many years.  I was a broke college student, and then there weren't really any adult classes in the area.  I wasn't such a beginner that I needed to be taught the positions and how to plie, but I was out of practice in a pretty deep and fundamental way.

Four years ago, I found the studio I am at through the friend-of-a-friend.  Talk about your learning curves.  It quickly became clear that I did not remember nearly as much as I thought I had.  Also, the seventeen-year-old ballet mind could not really get the twenty-seven-year-old's body to cooperate.  Still, I was dancing again, so I made the best of it, cried occasionally when I felt like a failure, but was glad to get out of the house.

Year Two saw me taking the leap I didn't think I ever would again--I put on pointe shoes.  Two years after that, I still can't do anything without holding onto the barre (well, except walking), but I do look damn good up on those shoes.

I am not very good, I have decided.  I can't spot during turns; I really have trouble breathing, smiling, and dancing all at the same time.  Also, I can't get my arms and feet to move simultaneously.  (This has always been a problem for me, but being out of practice, and older, has made the discrepancy more pronounced.)  My instructor takes this all very seriously, and can be more than a little intimidating on a show year.  I respect her as a teacher, though, because I know what she goes through with her classes, and I just hope I only mildly disappoint her on any given Wednesday.

I will continue dancing until there's a real reason that I have to stop.  I'm thinking ACL surgery or really bad arthritis in my ankle, both of which are distinct possibilities, given my joint health.  Tonight I will go and make a fool out of myself trying to do assembles, turns, and bizarre arm movements.  My instructor will look at me and shake her head in disapproval; I will come home and probably have a Charlie Horse in the middle of the night.  And I will do it all again the following week.

I am a pretty, pretty ballerina, damn it.

1 comment:

  1. For a good portion of my life, I was a martial artist. Martial arts and writing defined my entire life. Most everything else I did was either to facilitate getting to do those two things, or just those necessary chores or unavoidable inevitabilities, like homework or school.

    Then I started to hurt all the time. A few years later, I was diagnosed with two kinds of arthritis and a condition called fibromyalgia - and for a long while, those two things defined my life. Either I was dealing with the symptoms or I was dealing with the treatment (and the side effects of the treatment). Ten years after the diagnosis, I'm a fat, slow, tired old guy who very much misses his life being defined by martial arts and writing.

    I've gotten back into martial arts (I never really left writing behind) and I discovered I remembered more than I thought I would, but I lost a lot of the subtle bits of knowledge that turns a person from just 'competent' to 'good' - and relearning those has been hard. Even if I can't do some of the things I used to be able to do, even just working the slow forms of tai'chi has helped me remember a lot of the person I used to be - and even helped me get back some of the really good things about that person.

    I think it's awesome you're holding onto your dancing and not letting go until you have to. Letting go of those small (or large) things that help define us and shape us as people is often said to be one of those inevitabilities I mentioned earlier, but I'm starting to think that reasoning is flawed.

    I think that those of us who can hold on to those things or re-discover them end up with something a bit larger in scope and a bit more panoramic in perspective than the people who let go of things as they walk through the supposed inevitable stages of life.