When I was in my mid-twenties I used to say that I looked forward to being a dancer in my 30’s. I’d come across many gorgeous dancers five to ten years older than me who had a calm confidence about them that I longed to feel and embody. As a 20-something year-old student in a competitive and intense dance school it just wasn’t possible for me at that time to be this person, but I was pretty sure it would happen if I gave it time.
And I was right.
After a two year hiatus from living as a dancer I came back to it half way into my twenty-ninth year with a new sense of self; a calm confidence if you will. It helps that my current dance world is far from competitive but I also have nothing to prove these days. I dance for me and this is enough.
Last night I gathered up this confidence and faced an old fear: ballet class.
I am a modern dancer, through and through. My experience, skills, and training definitely cross over into other genres but not as fluently as one might think. I was in modern dance technique class from the time I was 5 or 6 but only once did I take a ballet class as a child, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it through the whole year.
In college I was required to take ballet for three years in addition to the four years, ten hours a week, of modern technique. I dreaded ballet class. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a beginner. My ego took a serious hit with each class and I would count down the minutes until I could get back to my home; modern.
No one likes their ego smashed to pieces, especially not over something that usually brings them such pleasure, so for many years I avoided ballet class. Until last night. The class was great, the teacher is a woman I like and admire, the other students were generally in the same boat as me (just looking for a low-key technique class), and just as I had hoped, I felt calm and confident.
But I realized that I don’t like ballet.
And all of a sudden I realized that the problem with me and ballet is not really my lack of skills (although they are seriously lacking) but my lack of desire. Ballet is beautiful and graceful and the technical aspects can make you a better dancer of any style. It’s also rigid and forced and upright and lacking momentum. In other words, the antithesis of what draws me to dance.
It’s not me, it’s you. You are amazing but just not for me, not now, probably not ever.
My body ain’t as fresh as it once was but what I’ve lost in overeager determination I’ve gained in calm. And confidence. And the ability to let go of things that no longer serve me in my life.
Ballet is not for me but it’s not because I’m not good at it, it’s because it does not bring me the kind of pleasure that I seek in life.
I took a few modern classes in college also and absolutely loved it!
After every exercise last night, when she went to turn off the music, I wanted to not just shake out my legs, but launch into full-bodied, somewhat quirky improv! Ballet can be so stiff at times… I totally agree with your conclusion that: “It’s also rigid and forced and upright and lacking momentum.” When I dance, I want to MOVE!!
And also, it’s a pleasure to be in class with you 🙂
What you wrote about ballet sums up a recent conversation about opera. Both participants agreed that it is an amazing form of performance art, yet neither of us would listen to more than a few minutes to be reminded that it is not reaching me.
Sarah (I Dream of Beets)
I quit ballet when Mrs. McCloud made me spit my gum into her spidery-blue-veined hands in front of the class. I then hid in the bathroom of Milwaukee’s JCC every week thereafter during my class time until my mother discovered my secret. Ah well. In the past four years, I’ve done African Dance, which is also the antithesis of ballet in many ways. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.
I love African too! Especially West African, although it’s been a very long time since I was in a class.
I think I’l forward this to Belle. Ballet was hard for her – body and soul. Might be nice for her to know it’s hard for other dancers she knows. Thanks for sharing Faith.