“Kick Lines and Drill Teams and Poms, Oh My!”
That’s the headline on my newest issue of Dance Spirit magazine.
Actually, the magazine is addressed to my husband. A few years ago he bought me a new pair of black jazz shoes at Capezio, a purchase that led to this glossy mag in my mailbox every month. And every month, I pour over it like it's the 1983 Homecoming Fashion issue of TEEN Magazine. Given that I'm a bit (ahem) older than their audience of aspiring dancers, I feel like I'm reading my daughter's diary. It's not exactly written for me, but I can't put it down. Kinda like men who watch Golden Girls marathons on WE tv. They can’t help themselves.
One of my favorite Dance Spirit reads is a front-of-book piece called “Letter to My Teenage Self,” written by successful adult dancers to the memories of their ambitious yet insecure selves. The letters, such as this one by the enviable Broadway star Elizabeth Parkinson, often move me. Perhaps this is because I've given thought to how I support dancers and would-be dancers of any age. We all need encouragement whether we’re 15 or 50. I've also wondered what I might say to my teenage self, that young dancer who yearned for so much but couldn't quite figure out how to get it.
This isn't that letter. Not yet. But after a particularly deflating ballet class last week, I put my pen to paper. “Ballet” speaks to me in a certain way. Late that evening, I decided to talk back and here's what I said:
Sept. 28, 2011
Hey, how was class for you tonight? Mine was kind of lousy – thanks for asking (that's a joke, I know you didn’t ask). Yeah, I can't really blame YOU for my bad class – I mean, I know what I’m getting into when I walk into your studio. You’re in charge. You make the rules. You call the shots, whether we're ready or not.
Honestly, sometimes I’m amazed that you have any friends and fans at all. Why do people come back when you make them feel so bad? I wonder if there’s a clinical diagnosis for that. Ha. At least when we make mistakes in Zumba or hip hop, we can all have a good laugh and go home and watch something stupid on YouTube.
Tonight I left the studio and went straight to the bar with my barre friend.
Even though we felt humiliated by a class that usually feels familiar, and even though we had a bit of a laugh about it, we wondered aloud how we got into that situation. I guess we want to be around you for your beauty, grace, agility and strength, even if it leaves us feeling fat, ugly, uncoordinated and weak. Funny, huh?
As I drove home that night, I wondered: Do you remember the first time we met? I know, it’s been a long time. I was seven, we hung out for about a year. Dainty Person from the South, stage right, in Wizard of Oz? White tutu, green sequins, pink bow on the backside? I was the one who wanted to do the “head pop” at the end, in that final sitting pose? (To this day, I say it was in the music.) My choreography wasn’t a hit with my teacher, who in our last class presentation made each of us do a “Fish Pose” with him. Ugh, I didn’t like that. I was uncomfortable being handled up by a grown man who wanted to hold my head a few inches above the floor.
After that, I didn't hang around you for a few years – I dabbled in gymnastics, jazz, tap and then there you were again. I was 11. Someone told me that I was too old to start ballet. That I’d never dance on pointe, so what was the point? I shrugged and took class anyway, at least for a few years. I wasn’t dancing on pointe, but I still got invited to a second ballet audition at Booker T.
But I didn’t go back.
Because I was too old for ballet, right?
Then you and I, we kinda lost touch, though I took classes here and there. Remember when I shared a barre with Clark F. at DePauw? I swear you liked him better. Guys always get a lot of love in your class.
And then a few years later, remember those classes at the UT student union? Riot! Who bothers giving a serious ballet class to adults ages 25 to 65? I don’t think I even broke a sweat. I think the teacher thought we were there for the music. Lame.
About that time, I called to get the adult ballet schedule at a place on Guadalupe, the one in an old fire station. After talking to someone on the phone, I realized there was no way that I wanted take class at a ballet academy. If they didn’t want us at age 15, how could they possibly want us at 25? What self-respecting adult would subject herself to certain humiliation?
Not me, not then.
But I subject myself regularly these days. At least twice a week, maybe 10 -12 classes a month if I'm lucky. I know that’s a paltry routine compared to the aspiring YOUNGER dancers or even OLDER dancers with more time, but I’ve got a family, a business and a lot of other things going on.
Yep. I’m back. We've been on again, off again for most of my life, but I've been hanging around for about two years now. And guess what? Now, I really AM too old for some of your tricks. All that baloney about being too old at 15 – hilarious! You had me. What a kidder.
I know you need the fountain of youth to maintain your beauty, grace and strength. We know that the future of your art will be determined by the success of your most ambitious and talented young dancers. We adult students know that we’ll rarely (never?) be a source of your pride or worthy of your praise. Knowing this, my friends and I still pursue you. We know that you have something to give us, though we have nothing that you want in return.
After a class like the one that we had tonight, our band may be deflated but we are not defeated. We'll take your strength and agility. We’ll keep reaching for your grace and your beauty. Personally, I’ll use your lessons in MY life when I need a little more determination and confidence.
Or perhaps when I need a little more ATTITUDE.
I guess I'll see you in class this week.
(c) 2011 Laura Bond Williams. All rights reserved.