Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gotta Dance

Once a week now, I try to "do the double." Not pirouettes, but back-to-back classes, usually ballet and then theatre dance or street jazz. I love it. But my body tells me when I need to slow down.

So a few weeks ago, I was 30 minutes into my second class and getting light-headed during a torturous jazz adagio. Chuckling at my ambitious attempts to dance for nearly three hours, I sneaked around the edge of the studio to talk to one of our teachers, who was observing in the corner. When I told him that I was tired -- that I'd just taken ballet -- he grinned and said "that's great!" -- a supportive "atta girl" that made me proud.

That thumbs-up alone would have made my day. But then he said something that made my head spin.

"You oughta get a gig."

"Doing What?" I asked, wondering what he possibly had in mind. I waited for him to explain his headlining remark: "39 Year Old Amateur Dancer Seeks...Gig."

He shrugged. "I don't know," he said, "but I started my last show when I was 39. You've got a few years ahead of you."

The only way to describe my reaction is a bizarre combination of elation, fascination and what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about. I can't land my turns. (very well) I can't sing. (very well) I have a lovely family, a growing business and generalized anxiety about things like gigs...well, actually, about everything.

While a dance gig sounds like a dream come true, reality is daunting.

And it always was. Over the next few days, I remembered a few of my turning points as a dancer.

I was 13 years old when I asked my parents if I could dance every day to earn arts and PE credit. I would take academics in the morning and spend afternoons in the studio. A dancer friend had this enviable arrangement, and I thought I could do it, too. All I remember is that I raised the idea with my parents, got a talk about life "balance," and I went on with 8th grade, as usual.

The same friend auditioned for the high school for the performing arts when we were 15. I went, too, and I got called back. I didn't go back. It was too hard to explain that I wanted, so badly, to be a dancer and be wildly "out of balance." It was easier to pick up my JV cheerleader pompons and march into high school right up the street from my house.

I'll skip the story of my Six Flags Over Texas audition. Ugh.

Then, after college, I took a class taught by a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. After a few classes, we graduated to holding the pompons. (Those things are heavy, by the way.) She told me that I should try out for a squad, maybe the San Antonio Spurs dancers. ("Just lose 5 or 10 pounds," she said.)

I didn't go.

Apparently I've been thinking about "getting gigs" for a long time. But I have never had the courage to go and Get One. Until now.

Is it a midlife crisis or a midlife revelation? I'm not sure.

But if not now, then when? I am 39-years-old, and I am looking for a gig.

The best part? It's not all about finding one.

It's about wanting to.

2009-Laura Bond Williams. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

All That You Can't Leave Behind

On Thursday, I went a lot of places and hauled a lot of stuff. In the course of the day I carried a purse, laptop case, two different tote bags, a kid's backpack, a kid's bookbag, and two large gym bags. I went to a meeting, then a grocery store and then to work. Then I went to school and back home, then to soccer practice and a nonprofit event.

Then, finally, at 8:15 p.m., I went to dance class.

I walked into theatre dance with my arms full. I carried a purse filled with its purse-like necessities; a tote bag with makeup, a hairbrush and antiperspirant; and my large quilted "dance bag" with three more bags inside: one with dance shoes (heels and flats), another with two pairs of comfy sandals, and a third bag with 3-inch heeled street shoes that I'd worn to the said nonprofit event.

That's a lot of baggage (and shoes!) for a 75-minute class.

I should have seen this all coming.

Something special about dance classes in this community school (as opposed to a dance academy) is that there are students of all ages. The median age swings every class -- it could be anywhere from 18 to 38. I enjoy this immensely. It is fun to be around school age kids, teens and college students. I also enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow "mature students" (as we were dubbed tonight by our "mature teachers" -- who are in their mid-40s.)

One young dancer is particularly enjoyable to watch. She is graceful and strong, and she also exudes a lot of personality and an admirable confidence. I like dancing near her and behind her because she is expressive and creative. I watch her use her arms and think "Oh, that's a good idea."

My feelings are collegial and a bit maternal. She is at least 15 years younger than me. I see her smile, and I know that she is having a grand time. I imagine her growing and maturing as an artist for many years to come. She is just getting started. (I also admit that I feel some envy.)

Unknowingly, she inspires me to try harder and to be a better dancer. When I mimic her, I improve. It feels good. I picked up a nice arm movement that confounded me earlier this week. Tonight, in particular, I was feeling inspired by her and by my teacher. I usually struggle to perform in the mirror but tonight I felt grateful to dance with them.

Until I felt sort of pathetic.

Which is the feeling that comes after a question like this: Who do you think you are? (Message: You're not 18 anymore.) And this: Why are you trying to dance like that? (There's no future in this for you.) And my favorite: Who are you trying to impress? (Message: Nobody likes a show-off.)

Who. Do. You. Think. You. Are.

As I drove home after class, I felt pitiful. (And, I cried.)

I lug a lot of baggage into that dance studio. Over the last 12 months, I've gotten used to carrying it. I've mourned decisions that took me off my dancer's path. I've wondered how dreams die. I've struggled with the amount of time and money that I spend on a hobby that sometimes feels pointless -- except for its inexplicable curative properties.

On the positive side, I've spent many hours thinking about how I can raise my children to be confident and resilient, and faithful to their spirits.

But wow, some of these bags are getting heavy. I need a new place to stow this stuff.

Or better yet, maybe I can leave it all behind.

After all, I can always dance barefoot.

2009-Laura Bond Williams. All rights reserved.