Saturday, May 30, 2009

Faith, Funkytown and Summertime Blues

“Mommy, is that dress for ME? Or for YOU?”

That’s what my 6YO said the last week in May, when I held up a sparkly, red spaghetti strap costume loaned to me as a “guest performer” in a dance recital produced by my friend Nancy. My daughter has played in an old wardrobe box from the attic, full of flapper fringe, tutus, sequins and tails, all of my dance recital costumes from 20+ years ago -- which are now her dress-up clothes.

Naturally, that kind of “razzle-dazzle” red dress must be for her. Right?

Like Mother’s Day and the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament, dance recitals were a perennial part of The Month of May when I was young. I got to wear pretty costumes, put on light green eyeshadow, pink lipstick and boogie to “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Boy from New York City,” “Greased Lightning,” or that perennial favorite, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” As young as age 7, I remember whiling away afternoons in the basement of SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium or the halls of a local high school waiting to be called on stage for dress rehearsal.

That said, MY last dance recital was May 1988: “Funkytown,”” Faith” and “Summertime Blues." (From when I was a student of the Buster Cooper School of Dance in north Dallas, though I also had many recitals with Mimi Robbins whose studio is now called Dance Etc.)

Which is why when my friend Nancy asked if I wanted to be a part of her spring show, I giggled inside and then wanted to shout “YES!”

I'm sure I played it cool, though, saying, "Sure. That'd be fun."

Did it bring up a few insecurities? Hell yes it did. Did I pay them much attention? Not really. Because that's one of the differences between dance recitals at ages 17 and 38.

But at 17, I didn't share a stage with two former Broadway dancers whose long careers included working with choreographers Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse and making music videos that people actually watched -- all during the same time period when I was learning "Jellicle Cats" in a suburban strip mall dance studio.

So insecurities, what say you now? How will you wear that sparkly red dress?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two rules

From the witty and wise author and coach, Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your North Star.

"Rule 1: If it brings you joy, do it."

"Rule 2: No, really. If it brings you joy, do it."

That advice sums up the 10 months between August 2008 -- when I took my first class at Ballet Austin -- and May 2009, when I danced in three workshop performances and one studio recital.

Putting the joy of dance into my life became a significant resource for managing anxiety that has lived in my body for many years. In the last 10 months, life has happened as usual with its numerous joys and milestones (our wedding anniversary, my daughters' birthdays, the start of kindergarten); and grievous loss (the death of my best friend's newborn daughter, Lily Christine, who touched my soul in ways I never could have imagined; and the passing of my paternal grandmother, age 97). It also has presented new opportunities/challenges (I decided to form a business with a partner).

This new thread of dance, of movement, now woven into my days and weeks, is strengthening my fiber in both expected and surprising ways.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hot Honey Rag

So that first class -- the one where I didn't cry, hooray -- was like sucking in a huge lungful of oxygen after being in an airless environment. I was left gasping -- literally and figuratively.

But it sure fed the fantasy I'd been having for the six weeks leading up to that day, as I watched all the students learn Broadway numbers. After the 35 minute choreographed warm-up, our teacher said "Okay, how about Hot Honey Rag?" This number, from the musical Chicago and choreographer Bob Fosse, is all about style and attitude. It's not especially difficult, and everyone looks great doing it.

Which is not to say it is EASY. But you decide. Here's one of my favorite performances of this number. Right after "All That Jazz."

After that night, my need to go back to class was as potent as my love for my family. I couldn't imagine life without it. Now that I knew what I was missing...I couldn't miss it, anymore.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Head over heels

In late July 2008, on my daughter's last day of her summer ballet course, I knew I had to do something and get into a class at Ballet Austin, or I'd put it off indefinitely. Clearly I'd become skilled at burying (ignoring?) this desire.

So I bought a class pass. I ran to the nearby sporting good store and bought a top and pants. I didn't even bring my shoes with me that day. (If I had planned ahead to take a class, I might have talked myself out of it. Go figure.)

And I went to class. And I danced. And to my great relief, I didn't melt in a puddle of tears on the floor. I did not cry. (Yet.)

But I did go home that night and write.

An emotionally wrought essay poured out of me, as easily as a plie. The Austin American-Statesman published it a month later on Sept. 6, 2008, and Ballet Austin republished it last spring 2009. This was the beginning of Born Again Dancer.

Cry Baby Cry

But before I go any further, let me briefly -- or not -- explain my seemingly irrational fear of tears.

Four years ago I went through a big personal and professional transition, leaving a good job that fueled my ego (and my wallet) but left me with little to share with my family, especially my 1YO and 3YO daughters. During that time I found support with a group of women who also sought balance and joy in their lives. We were part of a group coaching program called a Personal Renewal Group or "PRG."

Our PRG met monthly for six months. Every month we were given activities and homework designed to help us reconnect with ourselves and our priorities. Goals, dreams, ambitions. That easy stuff.

One of those months, we each brought an object representing an important activity that we did to take care of ourselves. I do not remember what I brought. (If I could have put my wonderful massage therapist in my pocket, I might have taken her!) But I do remember what my PRG classmate, T., brought.

T. sat to my left, and she pulled out a pair of character shoes with tele-tone taps. As she began talking about how much joy she reaped in her dance classes, I burst into tears.


What the hell. I wasn't sure whether to apologize or run away. I couldn't explain it.

Sure, I'd missed dancing, I'd thought about taking classes. But tears, really? From where? For what, for whom?

Our group leader gently commented, "I think you two need to get together and take a dance class." Yes, yes, I thought, I'll get right on that.

So 3o -- THIRTY -- months later, I did.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What ifs

When I opened that box of possibilities, that I could simply take a dance class, I found many questions inside -- some practical, some unwarranted -- and some fearful.

First, who were those guys teaching the teenagers' class? Do they even teach adults? Because as much as I longed to get into class, I really wanted to be in their class. What if they didn't teach adults? Where would I turn?

So I found their names on the schedule. Okay, so I can take their class. Next question.

But, but, but -- what would I wear? Do I have to wear a leotard? (Ugh.) Do my old dance shoes fit after two pregnancies? Will I be the oldest one there? Will I look lumpy and uncoordinated?

How will it feel?

And for the next 3 weeks (we're up to week 6, now), I imagined myself walking into that studio. My "self talk" was along the lines of "What was the worst thing that could happen? Just do it. What's the big deal?"

Well, I had identified a visceral fear: that I would cry. That standing in front of a wall of mirrors and remembering childhood longings would crush me. I feared tears because my body yearned for dance so badly, and I had denied it to myself for such a very, very, long time.

I imagined myself flat on the floor in a puddle, as if the sky had opened and rained down on me.

What if THAT happened?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A bright red bow

Once a week for six weeks last summer - 2008 - I took my 5-year-old to pre-ballet class at Ballet Austin in downtown Austin, Texas. While she danced, my 3-year-old and I wandered the building, peering in studios to see what was happening.

Ballet Austin has a magnificent, second-floor viewing area that overlooks its largest studio.
Floor-to-ceiling glass lets you see every inch of what's happening below.

We loved to watch teens and college-age students in a musical theatre dance class down there. Every week, their instructors were pulling out classic and original choreography from some of Broadway's biggest shows past and present -- Gypsy, Grease, A Chorus Line, RENT. The kids were having a blast -- and I noticed, so were the teachers. In fact, I couldn't take my eyes off them, it was like watching a behind-the-scenes Broadway rehearsal. They were so good. Even my 3YO knew it was special -- every week, that's where she wanted to wander, to go and "watch the big dancers."

By the third week, my own longing was clear. I felt physically restrained, sitting there and watching the kids dance. My head started trying to follow the choreography, my hands mimed small movements. I mentioned this to another spectator, in passing, and she said, "You should do it -- they have classes for adults, you know. You're still young."

I LOVE the gift of perspective -- with a bright red bow on top.