Back in 2020, as I considered some New Year’s Resolutions, I thought hard about fulfilling my lifelong dream of being a ballerina. As everyone knows, all our dreams for that year came crashing down. So here we are in 2022, and after a hard 2.5 years of burnout in a busy hospital, I needed to find joy again.
I thought back on that 2020 goal and kept thinking about taking a ballet class. What a silly idea. I’m now knee deep in my forties and am starting to understand why I thought adults were so boring in my youth. I simply did not have the energy nor the muscle strength to do it.
And what if I fail?
. . . which is absolutely obvious that I would. When stretching your reach a little farther than you had before, one will fail in some way or another. We all have fears like this.
So in considering things I have succeeded out, which still surprises me, I need to allow room for failure to happen. How I look at it trying is already succeeding.
I often get the chance to talk with young or budding writers and I get questions about failure all the time. Letting your writing out into the world is scary, and it won’t be for everyone, so you will get those people that don’t like your work. Failure in writing happens all the time, but success comes from doing it. I’ll tell people, the only difference between you and me is that I tried something, I sent out my story and it got published. We are both creative people, both with stories to tell, but I tried something and now I know what it’s like.
So, in August 2022 I decided to try again something that was not comfortable, that was set for failure, and that would finally silence this voice in my head. I entered a quiet dance studio with absolutely no idea what to expect. Our very first class was online and was a nice little ice breaker, but didn’t settle any apprehensions. I came in bright eyed in my new yoga pants with a used ballet instruction book and a fresh new notebook for notes and quick journaling, a habit that I do for every class I take. I’ve included some of these quick thoughts I wrote down:
August 29: “It’s weird to think that I could be taking this class with my 18 year old. I think most of this class just graduated high school.”
Here are some things I discovered with my time in class . . .
I’m not in terrible shape. I think that the 20 pounds I’ve packed on makes me look a bit healthier than my tiny, wafer thin newlywed body. I mean, I’ve earned these pounds. My body has done some pretty cool things and I have the stretchmarks to prove it. Yet, here I am comparing my twenty years older body to those still tight and inexperienced. How absolutely unfair to my body’s accomplishments. But my brain has always done this stupid comparison, I can’t seem to get that stinking gremlin to move out of my thoughts.
October 17: “It’s so obvious that my classmates have never had babies. We are doing a ton of tiny jumps right in a row and gravity is cruel. Make sure I ALWAYS use the bathroom before class. The last thing I wanna do is pee a little in class.”
I did learn that I’m actually good at demi-pointe, and I totally blame this on marrying tall. When you are a perfect 5’ 4” and marry a guy 11 inches taller, you grow some pretty strong calf muscles. My balance is fantastic! I have a great arch on my foot. Sous-sous are a blast! When having a wall of mirrors, it’s hard not to notice my strong calves. Twenty plus years kissing the same guy makes them like steel!
Throughout the class, I never felt comfortable with my body, and never wore the ballet attire, choosing yoga pants and a dumpy tank over something strappy and tight around my C cups, something they don’t prepare a leotard for – breasts. I bought a lovely light blue leotard with a matching sheer skirt over it . . . and I never wore it. In the ballet world I am not a small like I am in other things, I had to buy a large leotard and it STILL felt tight. I put it on for my very last movement class final and my daughter thought I was all dressed up all fancy like ready to go out somewhere. So I changed because I felt ridiculous. I did not have the confidence to wear it, which is a total shame.
My classmates grew on me, even with the age difference. We were peers and that felt really good. There was a specific comradery with going through ballet blind. Of course, there were a few that had been in dance before, totally obvious. And all of us super novices made sure to watch them before we went on the floor. We slowly started to lose people too, a small reminder that in a community college people sometimes don’t show and just drop it (like I did when I was 18). But everyone was super encouraging, even when you didn’t have the grace to pull it off.
A community college ballet set up consists of metal pipes with metal stands that can be moved out to the floor. I found this extremely amusing. These things were always ice cold, super heavy, and stubbing your toe was inevitable.
I really like the barre. I didn’t understand that this is like ballet church that always happens. It warms all the muscles you need and trains you on all the movements.
August 31: “I didn’t know I would be learning French. I should have figured that one out.”
At the barre I really tried my hardest to do everything correctly. My core sucks, my arms are noodles, and my turn out needs work, but I learned the most at the barre.
Five years ago, I suffered from vertigo. This is another thing my body does sometimes, just decides to react weird when under stress. Ever since, I sometimes tip over. When deciding to take ballet, it didn’t occur to me that I would be spinning. Hello! Turns are one of the most marvelous things about ballet. So I warned my teacher about the fact that I might fall over. When we started our chaine turns I tried spotting and yeah, no kidding, I nearly fell on my head. The world was sideways. I watched my classmates’ techniques very carefully and I learned I didn’t need to go fast for this right now. Just start slowly and I improved little by little. I like chaine turns because again, I’m on my tiptoes.
Yeah, I don’t have any. I felt too ridiculous at first. Here I am in a ballet class in my forties trying to be graceful after clomping through life. It felt so phony. I was really in my head a lot of the time.
September 19: “Good thing I am not being graded on grace.”
September 26: “I have no idea what to do with my arms. I keep being repositioned because my arms are just limpy. I now understand more about what the blonde felt like in Center Stage.”
November 16: “How the hell do I pirouette? I hate that I missed that class. I keep pretending I know and watching others. I’m always turning the wrong way.”
I discovered that I didn’t like watching myself in the mirror, I’m too critical. When I concentrate I get this “I’m pissed” face and realized that I wasn’t smiling. It was taking so much of my focus, I was forgetting to have fun.
One thing though that my instructor mentioned at the beginning of the semester was “Act the part.” That stuck with me. If I let go a little and just enjoy moving my arms and pointing my feet, grace will come.
In my writing career I call “Happy Accidents” the fortuitous discoveries while in the moment.
A few happy accidents:
- I’m much more flexible than I thought.
- Pointe shoes are noisy. They clomp around like Clydesdales.
- Yoga was not a waste of my time like I thought.
- Stumbling on an article from a few years ago about the movie Red Sparrow, which led me down a huge rabbit hole in the research of Kurt Froman, the ballet coach that helped Jennifer Lawrence play a ballet dancer, also the same coach who helped Natalie Portman win an Oscar. Extremely serendipitous. I later did my presentation on him (and messaged him on Instagram, because, yeah, if someone decided to do a presentation on me, I might want to know – such an awesome guy!)
- Started reading Midnight In Everwood, which I had no idea was a retelling of The Nutcracker at the time.
- Flip through the channels and find Boxballet, a short animated love story about a boxer and a ballerina.
- Understanding a heck of a lot more in the movie Center Stage.
There were a lot of weird things that happened right as I was taking the class that helped solidify the rightness in my life. Taking ballet was a bucket list item. When people asked why I was doing it, my answer was simple, I couldn’t live on this planet without trying. I don’t want to regret anything anymore. I want to try and show others that I can do it, at any age.
Back in 2020, my thought of taking ballet came from me finding a Saturday morning ballet free-for-all class. I’m so glad that I didn’t get the chance to do that, because oh man, I was not at all prepared to challenge myself like that. If I can’t wear a leotard in class, how would I ever go into a class full of dancers?
I learned to appreciate ballet as art, and it is a serious workout. These people are no joke strong. Ballet is also history because knowing where and why you are doing things in a specific style is important to the integrity of the art. Being there in class made me work because I wanted to be a good student and prove to myself that I could do this. So that when I go to this jungle ballet class on Saturdays, I can at least have an idea of the discipline ballet takes.
Trying something is already succeeding, that’s what I learned from taking ballet at an older age. Even when you think you are failing, you tried, and that means something. It’s never too late, you’re never too old, and there is joy in reaching a little farther than you thought you could. And I think I’m really going to miss it.