Saturday, June 13, 2009

"At The Ballet" (in pink tights)

When I was 9, after taking ballet lessons for about a year, the teacher took me aside and told me that at my advanced age, it was time for me to decide between dancing & playing the piano, and given my ballet skills, she suggested I choose piano. (Yes, it's funny now, although I was traumatized at the time) But after a few decades (and a couple of good therapists along the way), I gave it another shot and enrolled in an adult ballet class, at a studio where I'd already been taking tap dancing for fun & exercise.

It was a scary transition. Tap dance is satisfying - it doesn't take long before you can make some cool sounds, tap prowess relies more on rhythm & relaxation than on the ability to put your leg over your ear, and classes are full of an assortment of body types, laughing and having a blast. Ballet is more serious, the music isn't as fun, and it tends to attract women who were serious ballet students as children - and who still have classic ballet bodies. (Every time I'm in class, next to those impossibly lithe, leggy beauties, I have this urge to hum the Sesame Street song, "One of These Things Is Not Like The Other". I'm a healthy, normal size who looks decent in regular clothes, but let's just say pale pink tights do not flatter my healthy, normal, and comparatively short legs, particularly when this nice Jewish girl is overdue for a leg wax!)

Still, I've persevered for several years, forgiving myself (sort of) for my slow progress, making adjustments for my limitations (proudly kicking my healthy, normal leg almost up to a 90 degree angle while everyone else has their feet at eye level or above) and trying to remember that my husband prefers my healthy, normal curves. And class has become my meditative oasis. Ballet is so demanding, my brain doesn't have room to focus on anything else, so I have an enforced break from money worries, kid stresses, or wondering if I forgot someone important on Ben's bar mitzvah invitation list. Plus there are wonderful moments of joy - watching someone who started out gawky do something graceful, hearing a favorite piece of music, or an unexpected bit of entertainment. For example, many of the women in my class are thin enough and wealthy enough to have had a bit of silicon enhancement. Most are extremely subtle and natural looking, but there was once a woman who must have been 6'1", almost all in her legs, gorgeously slim but with Dolly Parton's bustline; when she jumped, her double Ds didn't move an inch, despite having no more support than a flimsy spaghetti strap top. (To give you an idea of how weird that was, my healthy normal chest requires 2 bras and a leotard with a built-in bra, and I still bounce all over the place.)

And sometimes, I do feel like I've made progress. I realized how good ballet was for my healthy, normal body (have I said that enough already?) when I went for a physical several years ago. It had been 2 years since they'd measured my height (during which years I'd started ballet class and ended an unhappy marriage), and the nurse was astounded to see that I'd grown two inches. Vertically. All from the posture improvement I'd gained from dancing, with a bit of the divorce thrown in. There are the smaller accomplishments - like FINALLY remembering the 8 body positions (Efface or epaule?) or realizing I could do chainee turns across the room without getting nauseous, just dizzy. And this week, I completed a fouette turn (a pirouette while whipping the leg out & back in - hard to describe but it's what ballerinas do a dozen times in a row when they're showing off). It wasn't pretty, but I got around without falling on my face, and for a moment I felt like a real dancer. (Until my teacher returned me to reality by reminding me that my feet weren't pointed, my shoulders were hunched and my leg wasn't straight. . . . . But at least I did it!, I wanted to protest, which I guess was like saying, Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?)

So it's taken many years, but I think I've finally healed that childhood wound of being told I had no future as a ballerina. I still know I have no future as a ballerina, but after 41 years I can feel good about my healthy, normal body despite the pink tights and rail-thin gazelles, and occasionally do a wobbly fouettee. Sometimes, that's all it takes to make my day!

1 comment:

Augusto said...

I can identify. When I was in high school, everyone had to take a musical class. Since I already played the piano, the marching band didn't seem the right choice so into choir I went. After the first two classes, the instructor took me aside at the end of the class and suggested that I merely mouth the words. She was right, of course, since I can't carry a tune unless it was a discordant Dvorak opera perhaps.