Have I mentioned that I started ballet classes last year? At the age of 32 I began doing what most three year olds do. It’s been a fun adventure, completely my own, and at times I wonder what in the world I’m doing in a leotard and pink tights.
The first half of ballet class is typically my favorite part. As we work through the barre exercises I grip that lifeline, carefully executing my tendue, plie, and cambré. I work on my form, keeping an eye on the mirror as I perfect each movement. I love barre. It’s controlled and precise, anchored and safe. Barre work makes me feel elegant, as I imagine a ballerina should feel.
Shortly after, my safety net is taken away.
The second half of class requires the dancers to spread out across the room. Our teacher introduces the combination for the evening and suddenly I’m not so graceful. As I attempt to turn, leap, and move across the floor I feel like a baby giraffe taking those first steps. There are weeks when I pick up the combination (somewhat) and I seem to make progress. Other weeks I fight frustration, believing that I just can’t do it.
Tonight I had a difficult time on the floor. I felt a step behind everyone else and dizzy as I attempted soutenu turns. I was confused about where my feet were supposed to be and unable to move with the ease I desired. As much as I tried to figure it out and execute each step perfectly, it wasn’t happening. After class, I approached the teacher. “Why can’t I do it?” I moaned. “Am I that uncoordinated? What’s wrong with me?” With a good-natured laugh she answered, “You’ve just got to get out of your head — that’s what’s messing you up. You were doing it, though. Couldn’t you see that!?”
No, I couldn’t see it. First of all, I was too busy staring at my feet in the mirror. Furthermore, it didn’t feel graceful or elegant or balletish so it must have been wrong, right? It felt awkward and clumsy and everyone else seemed to have it down better than I did. (May I remind us, though, that I was staring at my feet in the mirror and certainly didn’t have time to look at anyone else.) Maybe she was right. MAYBE I was doing it. But I know I wasn’t doing it perfectly and I know that I felt uneasy in the midst of it.
This getting-out-of-my-head, the not being perfect on the first (or fifth) time – this is going to be my biggest challenge. Here’s the thing: I’m not going to stop overthinking soutenu turns by thinking more. I’m going to master them by going back to class and turning. And turning again. And again. And again. It will be awkward, clumsy, and nothing that you would ever see on a stage in New York City. And I may not get that ballerina feel that I get with barre exercises, at least not yet. I’ll keep going back, though, because I really like ballet. I’ve wanted to learn it for a long time and it’s worth the Bambi-on-ice-skates moments to do that.
I’m in and I’m staying in. Perhaps one day I’ll glide across the floor with the ease of a seasoned dancer. If that days comes (and if it does I’ll invite you to my big debut) I think it will mean all the more, knowing what it took to get there. I don’t know that that day will come, though, but I’m still becoming more and more of who I want to be every time I trip and spin across that floor. I’m the 33 year old in the leotard and pink tights. I’m the one who didn’t give up.