My first ballet class of the century was kind of boring.
I was going to dance around this heresy. But there, I said it.
A few weeks ago, I took a ballet class for the first time in about 10 years (maybe 11? I lost count). I joined a room full of teens and adults of all shapes, sizes and abilities. In a 75 minute class, we spent a full hour at the barre. Though it's not a shirt-soaking activity, the barre work fatigued my hips and legs and provided plenty of awkward moments as my limbs and head flailed stiffly.
Let's say that an hour at the barre makes me feel like a good girl who ate all of her spinach.
Barre work is like learning multiplication tables. Like practicing scales. Like memorizing the periodic table. Like learning prepositions in Ms. Gorman's 7th grade English class. Memorize. Practice, practice, practice. Mastery and memory precede application, expression and creativity. Those are earned, not given.
During my first class, our teacher noted that ballet demands perfection which ultimately is not attainable. The barre prepares you for your own attempt by teaching grace and muscle memory, by building strength and familiarity in your body.
Barre work is both a meditation and in some ways, a pop quiz. Its rewards are cumulative, which is why taking one class every 10 years isn't very exciting.
As I contemplated returning to ballet class, it occurred to me that its limited capacity for short-term reward is not much different from many activities in life. For example, I work in communications. Do I delight in every phone call that I make? Every sentence that I write? Every article that I read?
Of course not. But their cumulative effect on me is important -- even critical -- to my success.
I also thought about parenting. There are a lot of routine activities that simply prepare us for the work ahead. First it's changing diapers. Then it's making food, planning activities, socializing, educating. It's learning to practice patience and persistence when faced with continuous requests.
I found myself calling on this patience while standing at the barre this month, trying to remember the difference between en dedans and en dehors. (In a ronde de jambe, en dedans refers to an inward circle of the leg, en dehors to outward.) Finding that patience also inspired me to set a short term goal of applying myself in ballet class for a year, to see how I might improve.
Because I believe this is true: things that may not thrill us often help us achieve what does.
(Truth No. 2, written by Patty Griffin, popularized by the Dixie Chicks)