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Friday, June 15, 2012

And I Dance

Stand with your left hand resting lightly on a chair back or the kitchen counter, feet together.  Tighten your bottom and rotate your legs from the back of the thighs.  This will cause your feet to turn out.  Don’t let the toes turn out further than your knees.  Feel like you’re zipping up an invisible pants zipper deep in your stomach.  Stand tall, belly to backbone.  Don’t forget to breathe.  Drop your shoulders and open your chest.  Make your back broad.  You should be able to feel your back muscles engage.  Remember:  breathe.  Keep your butt down or your back’s going to hurt.  Feel like the top of your head is stretching up to the sky.  Don’t lift your chin.  Are you keeping your thighs turned out?  Breathe!  Okay, now slide your foot out.  Keep turning out.  Keep pulling up.  Point your toe as hard as you can; push your heel forward.  Stretch long.  Stretch tall.  Turn out.  Are you forgetting to breathe?  That’s ballet, and you haven’t even moved yet.  Believe me, it ain’t all daisy crowns and pink tutus.

When I was 13, my Mom took me to Princeton’s McCarthy Theater to see the ballet Midsummer Night’s Dream and, in a whisper, guided my eyes.  I’ve been a balletomane ever since.   When I did a college semester in London, I lined up overnight night at Covent Garden to score tickets to Nureyev and Fontaine in Sleeping Beauty.   Whenever I had a chance to get to New York I saw the New York City Ballet or the ABT.  In Moscow, it was the Bolshoi every six weeks like clockwork.

I began lessons when I retired.  Watching me in class isn’t pretty; I’m worse than you might imagine.  I’m not being modest here; I’m just, er, mature for a ballet student.  When you begin ballet as an adult, then have to skip two years, then begin over again only to have to go easy for a year because you’ve torn your meniscus, and then, through shear stubbornness, keep on, well, let’s just say you don’t expect to audition for the Washington Ballet.  I’ve got no flexibility -- never had much, to tell the truth -- and I’ve got next to no turnout.  My stomach muscles are not what they should be, and I have a bad habit of leaning.  What I do have is enthusiasm.

After the first ten minutes of class, I’m sweating to the beautiful music.  After an hour, I’m panting.  By Reverence at the end of the hour and a half, I feel great!  I’ve justified my existence for the entire day.   Not much in this world gives you so much bang for the buck.  

Most of the students in my classes are better than me and always will be.  Some are professional; some may as well be.  They pant and sweat right alongside me although, let’s admit it, the results are rather different.  Sometimes I’m frustrated but never disheartened.  I’m there for personal growth not competition.  If I just keep at it, I’ll get stronger (and, with luck, thinner).   I’ll never be as good as the 20-year-old in front of me, but I’ll be better. 

And in every class, there are those few, glorious moments when the world is reduced to music and movement,
                    and I dance.

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