I'm not entirely sure why I stopped taking ballet class for almost ten years. When we were first married, I was on a leave of absence from my law firm and for about a year I took class every morning, plus Pilates every afternoon and acting class in the evenings. It was awesome. Unsustainable financially and generally unrealistic and self-indulgent, but so completely awesome.
When I returned to lawyering, I also started running a lot, and ended up training for and finishing the New York marathon twice. Running was much easier to fit into my hectic work schedule; I could throw on my shoes and head to the park before most people were awake every weekday and go for hours-long training runs on the weekends. That took up most of my spare time and certainly my energy, and any part of me that still wanted to dance (which is every part of me, always) reasoned that ballet muscles are completely antagonistic to running muscles, and if I did both I'd end up injured -- not to mention that all those miles had destroyed my turnout and flexibility, and I didn't want to look like a fool at the barre.
After years of doing multiple 10Ks and half-marathons -- all of which I loved, by the way, so it's not like it was all terrible and soulless -- I had Felicity, and between pregnancy, nursing, work, (half-assed) running, and generally living with an infant/toddler/preschooler, ballet wasn't much on my radar, at least not in the sense of pulling myself together and going to class. A couple of years ago, when I was cleaning out my closets and drawers, I pulled out a huge stack of leotards and tights (not from my super-skinny high school dancing days, of course, but from my early married/getting-back-into-it days), contemplated them for a while, and then threw them in the trash. (Whyyyyyy do I have to be such a neat freak/super-organizer/cleaner-outer all the time?) I did, at least, keep a pair of old ballet slippers, one pair of pointe shoes, and a few practice skirts.
I can't really say what made me suddenly go back to ballet class a month ago, either. For years, I have been having vivid dreams at night in which I am in the studio or on stage, and I can really dance. I'm fluid and strong, whipping out multiple pirouettes and soaring through the air. Sometimes I dream that I'm chosen to join the New York City Ballet. I wake up ecstatic every time, then deflated by the reality and limitations of my 38-year old body.
A few months ago, a friend from law school posted on Facebook that she was signing up for an adult ballet class. Then another friend, a dancer with whom I'd roomed for two summers at Boston Ballet who ended up becoming a bona fide ballerina for a well-regarded company, mentioned that although she'd retired from performing after having her son, she too was returning to class.
Those things must have percolated in the back of my mind for many months, and between that and reading a bunch of Brene Brown (Find what makes you come alive and go do it!) and having some major life-is-too-short moments at the beginning of the year AND going to a "movement workshop" at the NY City Ballet for non-dancers (which was an utter and absolute BLAST -- and you cannot even imagine the fascinating cross-section of people it attracted; if I described them, you would think I was putting you on)...well, anyhow, something in my addled brain finally clicked. ZING. I MUST DANCE.
So one day I went on the Steps website and found a class that fits neatly into my Friday morning during the hours when Felicity's at school, and I went to a tiny neighborhood dancewear store and bought some leotards and tights ("Here's a large for you, dear -- not because you're large, but because you're tall" -- mmm hmmm), and when Friday rolled around, I pulled my hair back and summoned my boldest boldness, and I went.
The great thing about open-level or intermediate-ish adult ballet classes here -- perhaps anywhere, but here is all I know -- is that you get all kinds of folks. Ladies who are well into their 50s and 60s; middling moms like me; yogis looking for something different; younger dancers who happen to like a particular teacher; professionals and near-professionals -- and so on. For years I guess I forgot about this fact, and when I considered taking class, I allowed myself to be cowed by the thought of how I would look in a leotard, or how comically bad my turnout would be, or how stupid I'd look in a class full of 15-year olds with legs that can developpe to their ears.
For heaven's sake.
It's not as though I have anything at all at stake in a ballet studio anymore. I am 38. I'm an attorney and a mother. I was once very good at ballet and had a great physical facility for it, but that was a long, long time ago. No one is going to mistake me for someone who is trying to DO something with ballet, you know? So equally, no one is going to judge me for going in there and taking a freaking class. Finally, it has dawned on me that I don't have to make such a gigantic DEAL out of something that should be enjoyable and fun. Joyous, even. And I can't even tell you how freeing that is. The moment I walked into that studio, I wanted to laugh with near-hysterical glee. I'M BACK! I wanted to shout. I am HOME.
Even for the classes for has-beens like me, they have live piano players who are super-talented and play just as they would for a ballet company class. Even for us, they have great teachers who make class hard and give corrections. There's no patronizing or watering down. Honestly, I don't think I perspire as much in a marathon as I do in the first 30 minutes of barre. It is SO HARD. But it feels better than anything else. It's painful and my muscles shake and sometimes my old lady brain has trouble keeping up with the lightning-fast combinations -- oh, and jumping? WHOA, I almost collapse midway through every time -- but it's perfect.
Last week was my third class. My third one after ten years off. I'd told the teacher the first time I showed up that I was coming back after a hiatus of many years, and she kindly acted as though she couldn't tell I was hopelessly out of shape. So after this most recent class, when I went to thank her, she said, "I am impressed! Where did you dance?" I was just catching my breath and I rambled some incoherent answer about having been to law school and gotten busy with work and then had a child (I completely did not even answer her question because I couldn't think straight), and she was surprised and said, "Really, you were beautiful in class. Good job." (I am under the impression that she thinks I am much younger than I am, though maybe she's just humoring me.)
It's not getting plucked from a room full of people to join City Ballet -- at least not yet, ha ha HA -- but damn, I will take it. And I will be back again on Friday.
(Now, of course, with that tiny nugget of encouragement, along with the fact that I only have so many years left of feeling or looking this good in this particular body, I want to quit my job and do nothing but take dance class (well, and spend time with Felicity, and do all the volunteer-y stuff I am suddenly doing (have I mentioned that I'm teaching Sunday school in the fall?? ME??) and all that jazz -- but mostly the dancing)).
(I need a patron.)
(Hey, I think I've found my midlife crisis!)