I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (on a good day)

My angst-ridden tirades notwithstanding, I generally enjoy ballet class nowadays. Though sometimes it's hard to explain why.

When I began dancing again in 2008, I didn't rush back to the barre. For a year I threw myself into musical theatre and jazz, which strengthened my body and gave me confidence to try a ballet class.

So I took my first ballet class of the new century in August 2009, wearing a pair of white ankle socks. Which I wore exclusively for the first three months or so. Something about brand-new ballet shoes implied that I cared about being there, and I resisted. After a few months I relented and got some ballet shoes. Then, about six months later, the teacher began remembering my name. By the time August 2010 came around, I started receiving some useful corrections on a more regular basis.

Those crazy ballet teachers, they don't rush into anything, do they?

Two years later, I genuinely enjoy ballet class, most of the time, even when I leave as annoyed and discouraged as I was two weeks ago.

And why? What joy is there?

There are some simple pleasures. At Ballet Austin, we enjoy live accompaniment in class, given by a diverse roster of talented pianists who play everything from Mozart and Moody Blues to jazz-inspired make-it-up-as-you-go-along melodies. Live music is one nice thing about ballet class.

However, this fall I've been taking a class at a smaller neighborhood dance studio, where our young teacher flips through her CD of ballet music for barre exercises, etc. I still enjoy her class very much. It's a small class, and she is observant and helpful. (Okay, truth is I've been the only one there for five out of six classes. It's like a private lesson. Shhh. Don't tell.)

So perhaps it's not all about the music.

Perhaps a good class rises from the momentum of persistence, patience and practice and brings some satisfaction. As you apply yourself to ballet, your class experience is bound to change. Of course, there's the double-edged sword of corrections and criticism, which you are bound to receive once said-teacher 1) remembers your name and 2) decides it might be worth his (or her) energy to correct you. Until those stars and planets align, if you are a motivated student, you may simply hang on every word and take every classmate's correction for your own. Or you stare down your teacher to make eye contact, looking for clues that his or her general instruction or corrections for the class may have been provoked by your own foot spasm or other untoward bodily movement.

Sometimes it's a non-verbal communique that goes something like this:

Snarky Ballet Teacher: "...NOT like you are doing the Frug in Sweet Charity..." (and casts a Glance or Look.)
Me, watching for a Glance or Look with Chin Down, Eyebrows Up: Nods.

Famous musical theatre choreography known as "The Frug" from Sweet Charity. These guys and gals definitely took a lot of ballet.

What do I enjoy about ballet class? Check "yes" for classical music, check "maybe" for continual critique.

What else is there? Definitely camaraderie.

For two years, I've watched and admired my adult classmates who are growing and changing as ballet students. Determined and devoted women, many of whom had never taken a class before they turned 40, are now committed to weekly and even daily ballet classes. A few months ago, one of our classmates who is in her mid-50s was called to the front of class to demonstrate a corrected position (because she was not doing it correctly at the barre moments before.) A minute earlier, our teacher had corrected a talented 15-year-old for the same position, and now he was set upon making his point upon our older peer. Sometimes I hold my breath in these moments. I'm empathetic to the point of distraction. Was she about to be berated? Or perhaps...


Here's the funny thing. It was both. And that's the weird thing about ballet class. In any moment, at any age, you get to decide whether it's building you up or tearing you down. Because its habit and culture is to do both.

In that moment of verbal humiliation, where she was chastised and corrected for her wrong position, he was imploring her to do better. Because her turnout was as good as the teenager's. Because he believed she could do it. And that kind of compliment is welcome at any age.

I think that's a clue to why she returns to class every day.

Why do I enjoy ballet class? Because I get to choose whether it builds me up or takes me down.

On most days, I know exactly what I want. And what I want to leave behind.

(c) Laura Bond Williams, 2011. All rights reserved.


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