London Calling

October 4, 2010

After an hour of tourist toystore mania at Hamley’s on Regent Street, I kiss my husband and kids good-bye at Piccadilly Circus. I will walk toward Covent Garden while they walk the other direction in search of a bus stop at Trafalgar Square to get back to Pimlico and our hotel. “Number 24,” I reminded him. He rolls his eyes at me. 

I turn to walk up Shaftesbury Avenue from Piccadilly Circus and picked up my pace, like a horse to the barn. Class. I’m going to class. It has been over two weeks since my last jazz class, and that one was 5,000 miles away in Austin, Texas. I’m in London. And I’m going to class!

I feel elation and anticipation in my whole body as I walk to Pineapple Studios. There's  some trepidation and slight intimidation, too. What will this class be like? Will I have fun? 

This vacation-induced dance abstinence actually came at a good time. I am coming off a creative binge that included producing a flashmob, performing in a community theatre Broadway revue and co-producing a one-night-only cabaret act. When I returned to class in September, I was ready to throw myself into a new project, to "take it to the next level," to grow and change and become one with the group and the muse and blah blah blah blah blah. Whatever was out there, I was in. I dived back into ballet and into Broadway jazz with an eager body and open heart. Sharing class with friends and in the company of teachers I enjoyed, I was certain something big was ahead.

And then, nothing. I went to class. Started learning a new combination. Wasn't that into it. Surrounded by classmates half my age and younger, I felt self-conscious. Teachers seemed to look right through me. My friends didn't attend nighttime dance classes, so I missed their camaraderie. I couldn't make it to weekday classes except Fridays. I was lonely and uninspired. I kept going but a thought nagged me.

"Maybe I'm really not that into dancing."

Maybe I was too needy, I thought. I wanted my teachers to help me get there, to that "next level" or whatever it was. For a few weeks, I left class with a cloud of disappointment over my head. No useful critique and no praise. When I left for the U.K. the third week in September, I wondered what I would do when I got back.  I packed one pair each of tights, shorts, and jazz shoes and a purple dance top. If I feel like it, I thought, I'll take class in London. If nothing else, I could do yoga.

Am I a little surprised that sparks are flying beneath my feet as I navigated the Mercer Street circus to Langley Street? Class starts at 7pm. It is only 6:20 and I have 40 minutes to spare, but I want to be there. I want to bask in dance studio energy, to hear the music thumping down the halls and peer into studios. Will this enthusiasm propel me through a class with total strangers? My dance community in Austin seems integral to enjoying the experience. There, I am not entirely anonymous. 

Here, I am a visitor. A middle-aged American woman on vacation. Will the younger students look askance at me? Will the cool kids and regulars smirk in the corner? I know that sounds ridiculous and insecure but it's not unfounded. I decide that whatever happens, it will not affect my experience. It is only a one hour class. I know how to do my thing and leave. I do not want to work at keeping my ego intact, but I wil do it if I need to. If I have picked the right class, I expect that I will hold my own.

Down in the huge basement dressing room, I realize that everything is going to be okay.

At a night class in Austin, I could be the oldest dancer in the dressing room. Here, women of all ages, shapes and sizes are changing in and out of dancewear. Discreetly surveying the Pineapple dressing room, I realize that I am anonymous but I am not an anomaly.

It's almost cliche to describe an urban dance studio by its narrow curves, crowded hallways and well-worn studios. I walk the stairway to the second floor to Karen Estabrook's Commercial Jazz class. She sits in the corner, collecting our payments. She smiles at me, gives me the welcoming nod that teachers reserve for new faces. Perhaps she says something like "do what you can." I take that as a welcome. Her tone and look says to me:
Hmm, you look like a dancer who probably knows what she's doing but I know you are new to this class. You are a visitor for a day, and I know that you may never come back. I want you to have a good time. Just dance. Do what you can. It's okay with me. P.S. I'm glad you're here. 
Okay, so maybe that's what I want her to say. Or maybe it's just what I need to hear. 

Her classic jazz warm up feels familiar and comforting. Her combination is easy enough to learn quickly and hard enough that I want to do it better. I do not recognize the song; she says it is a new dance hit. If I heard it again, I may remember the attitude turn in the middle that makes me feel like a dancer in 0-.5 seconds.

After class, I walk the (narrow) hallway and pass the Michael Jackson class. I swear there's 60 people crammed into a dance studio designed for 25, all of them sweating like not-so-smooth criminals. I wish that I could stay and sweat with them, but I go back down to the dressing room. I am walking on clouds. I am a dancer in London. I pull out my iPhone and stare at it. I need to call someone but I'm 5,000 miles away with a roaming international plan with a data limit -- for emergencies only.

So I take pictures instead.

A good sign
Like a horse to the barn, I find the studio in London rush hour.

Obligingly cheeky dance studio receptionist smiles for my camera.

I love London. I know this big, dirty, indifferent city doesn't love me back. It doesn't know I passed through before I turned two and again at age 11. And again at 21, 23 and 27. Then 31 and now 40. It doesn't know that I sing Garry Rafferty's "Baker Street" when I'm changing underground trains. Or hum "Penny Lane" as I wander around my cousin's neighborhood in Harrow. That I used to know the last train out of Charing Cross to Lewisham M-W left around 11:30 p.m. and I needed to be on it or I'd miss the last 21 bus back to Eltham. Pieces of this massive city have been small parts of my life for 40 years.  In its anonymity, I always find myself. 

Thank you, Pineapple, and thank you, London.


  1. I'm sure London loves you back! I guess it's sort of a distant love, but it always gives you something!


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