Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Ballerina and Me

I'm not sure exactly when I started taking dance lessons, but I do remember my mom picking me up after school in our old yellow station wagon. This was my grade school, so I must have been seven or eight. I would sit in the way back (without a seat belt!) and change into my tights and leotard as she drove me to ballet class. I added tap classes later on. Dropped tap after a few years. Added jazz and then modern dance. Eventually dropped ballet (jr. high brought the harsh reality that I would never have a "ballet body") and added more modern dance classes. At the height of my dance "career" I was probably taking three or four classes at a time. Plus the occasional workshop in new and exciting dance techniques like, um, breakdancing.

Well, as much as I loved dance, I was never really best in class (most flexible, yes), and it would never have been a real career. A big family move, high school, and a spectacular knee injury eventually pushed me into different fields, too. But, I really loved dance. I would spend hours in my room choreographing dances to my favorite songs and I devised a kind of shorthand with which to notate my choreography. I know I spent weeks on one dance to a medley of Fine Young Cannibals songs, at least. (That coupled with the breakdancing should enable you to pinpoint the year of my birth with near lethal accuracy.)

Sure, I loved the costumes and the French vocabulary and the studio crowd and the various fashion and social aspects of dance. But now, looking back, what I most remember is that I had a much better opinion of and relationship with my body. I knew what it could do. I could make it do it. I had a kind of confidence in my legs, especially, and my sense of balance and muscle memory. I still have really good muscle memory. I don't have a great sense of balance if I'm moving (though I can still stand on one leg for a while). I have almost zero confidence in my legs. Partly I think this is traceable back to the knee injury, and part of it is due to that flexibilty. Can you take much pride in your flexibility when it turns out you just have spaghetti tendons? I liked having the belief that my body was a thing of power and capability in action.

I've been thinking about all this again because Cora is moving into the next stage of ballerina love. The Nutcracker - the Clara music - is still part of her nightly bedtime ritual, and she still watches one of the movies once a week or so. And there's the tutu fetish. And the developing slipper fetish - sometimes she has a hard time deciding if she wants to wear the "glass slippers" (her good white shoes) or the "ballet slippers" (a pair of red Robeez). And then she started tripping merrily in a circle, on the balls of her feet (demi-pointe) with her arms in a near perfect second position.

And that's when I hunted up a video that would show her the positions, of feet and arms, and some simple steps. I found one at the library, called "The Ballerina and Me". We put it on last night. It was an aged video, the sound quality was awful, the video quality shaky, the overall production values painful to an adult, but she was transfixed. She tried to do the positions, the arms, the steps. She had me demonstrate them. We tried to get Daddy to do a plie. She used the arm of the glider as her barre. She tried to say the French words. She was wearing a diaper, a tutu, a pink long-sleeved shirt, a Cinderella dress-up shirt, and a constantly changing variety of footwear.

It made me yearn to dance again.


Mary G said...

This doesn't need a photo -- the word picture is spectacular.
But if you could get Daddy to pliƩ.........

nora said...

I can't think of a more graceful dad! Wonderful!

Isn't it amazing what jr. high will do to a mind AND body.

Grandma Jan said...

The interesting thing about this is, that while I was driving you to your dance lessons (in the yellow station wagon), I was remembering my own life of dance. Most vivid - an older French couple that taught ballet together. Very strict. Time beat out with a large stick on the wood floor! A little frightening and quite thrilling! Sigh.