Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meet me at the barre?

For three Augusts now, something special has happened in my life as a dancer.

In 2008, I rediscovered my love of dance and committed to its practice for one-year. (+dance)
In 2009, I celebrated that year -- and didn't stop. I added ballet. (+ballet) I started thinking about "getting a gig."
In 2010, I co-produced a cabaret act with my friends (and began taking voice lessons). (+singing)
In 2011, I performed in my sixth stage production, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. (+more performing)

With all the excitement of Augusts, Septembers could easily be letdowns. But this September, a seed of an idea from last winter began to sprout. Over a couple of margaritas, a friend urged me -- for the second or third time actually -- to write more often and openly about my experiences as an adult ballet student. Why? Perhaps because I have some opinions on this subject (especially after a couple of drinks). She thinks that others may relate to it.

Here's something interesting about being a ballet student. Although I consider myself a dancer, I do not consider myself a ballet dancer. A disc thrower who lifts weights as training does not consider himself a weight lifter, right? I am a ballet student. That's as far as it goes. Although I can dance in revues, cabaret acts, musicals and even dance backup in a drag show, it's unlikely I'll ever perform ballet. Not that performing is a defining criteria for being a dancer.

Just the criteria (in my head) for ballet dancer. As one ballet friend said to me, a ballet dancer is someone who you'd want to watch.


(not ballet dancing)

I'm a bit stubborn about this. You could challenge me: why is that not dancing, what you do in ballet class? Those steps, the moving, to music, in the center -- the petit allegro, the grande allegro, the waltz? How, you might say, is that not dancing? I'm not looking for consensus. I'm not trying to make friends, just make a point: Ballet class is the progression for developing a performance art form. For me, ballet class feels like training. Yes, it is training for dance but simply doing that does not make me a ballet dancer. I'm just not feeling it. I'm not there yet.

Ballet class is exacting, demanding, unforgiving, and insensitive to your flaws (whether physical, mental or both) and even the most talented and able dancers are reminded that they have shortcomings to negotiate in front of a 9-foot mirror. Ballet is intimidating in equal measures to many (most? all?) of its students.

With this in mind, I'm creating my own "gig" to explore the motivations and accomplishments of adult ballet students. (Are we human or are we...?) I'm making my own commitment to take a variety of ballet classes with different teachers and to have more conversations with my ballet class peers -- in Austin and beyond. Back in September, I wrote down what making ballet class a "gig" actually means in practical terms. So here it is:

My next gig…

  • To commit to improving as a ballet student by attending at least three classes a week (Three isn't a magical number, it's a practical minimum given our family's lifestyle and commitments. I'd like to take a 90-minute class five days a week for a year -- I wonder what would happen?)
  • To be honest, thoughtful, curious and open about my experience as an adult ballet student
  • To share my experience and observations in writing, an occasional video (!) and some photos (!!)
  • To respect the experiences and commitment of my teachers and other ballet students
  • To encourage other students to share their experiences here -- in fact, we have a dispatch from ballet class in Canada to share soon, and I'm hoping to coax some insights out of new students in Dallas and Phoenix later

The fun part of this gig? Anyone can join. No audition required! Set your own rehearsal schedule. Just show up.

See you at the barre.

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