Monday, September 19, 2011

On My Toes

I am taking an adult ballet class. Though I had extensive dance training from ages 7 to 21 or so, I haven't attended a class in over a decade. Why the long wait? Well, for one thing, I like to be really good at my hobbies, and after a few years off, I knew I wouldn't be good anymore...add a few more years, and I doubted I'd even be able to hold my own. Next, dancers - particularly ballerinas - are a catty group. There is a lot of judging and cliques and competition. After age 25, this was not my style.

It's surprising to me that when I was choosing a class to take this time around, I chose ballet. At age 14 or so, I had been taking ballet for a while and was told that within a year, I could join the Company. But I needed to quit all my other hobbies and start "being serious." I had enjoyed ballet, but always wanted to break out, sway my hips to the music, do some spontaneous moves, dance to a song with lyrics (gasp!). Plus, I didn't want to become one of the rail-thin, self-obsessed teens around me. So I quit. I languished around for a year before finding an amazing program offering jazz, modern, lyrical and Broadway styles. My roots were ballet, but my love (and talent, it turns out) was more modern.

I still hope to take a class with some booty-shaking and some self-expression, but for now I'm really and truly enjoying the routine of ballet. Something about entering class each week, performing the rote movements, trying to make my body master the seemingly-simple steps, clears my head and sets me at ease. I don't have to be great. I don't have to shine. I just need to try to hit my single piroutte, hold my balance in relevé, and remember to breathe. I don't quite zone out so much as become another person. At the barre, I'm not a mother of a toddler, a busy grad student, or a dancer past my prime; I'm Claiborne, me, returning to my roots, to how I used to feel, to how I used to spend my days. I look back, yet I feel incredibly aware of the present.

I'd be dishonest, though, if I said it was all meditation and simplicity. There is still a dancer in me that wants to, well, maybe not excel, but at least not make a fool out of myself. Last week, one of the teenagers visiting our adult class asked me how long I'd been dancing. I gave her a quick answer and she nodded, then said with a lot of surprise, "OK yeah, I was watching you, and you're actually pretty good." Part of me wanted to smack her, but the larger part beamed with pride. At my age, I'll take "pretty good." And with that ego check, I'll go back to the meditating.

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