Charming Activities: Ballet

Charming Activities: Ballet

Dance Studio
I was very lucky to be able to catch this picture of the studio before the other students arrived!

Over the past two weekends I finally did something I’ve been thinking about for a while–I took a ballet class~! ♥

(Okay, okay–technically, I’ve taken four ballet classes.)

I took ballet lessons when I was a child–at the park district of the town I grew up in. I was never particularly talented or passionate. I started as a toddler, with “Ballet, Tap, & Tumbling” but I quit before moving on to pointe. I didn’t have the ambition or ability to be a professional dancer, but I definitely didn’t hate dancing or class. I still look back fondly on those memories. (My father video-taped all of my recitals; I once showed my husband the compiled VHS of those performances, and he loved it so much that he has watched it more than the one time.)

Exercise and sports have never been things I am particularly interested in. (It’s a basically laziness hiding behind the excuse of asthma. u_u) However, I care about getting a sufficient level of physical activity to stay in good health. Living in a city and not owning a car, I do a lot of walking–but that’s probably not enough on its own. I’ve been thinking of supplemental activities I could try.

When I was in college, I took a semester of adult beginner ballet–once again, at the park district. It was only the one semester for a variety of reasons: my school schedule interfering and questions of affording it were the top two. Something else that worried me, though, was the lack of guidance. The slow-paced class consisted of mostly women around the ages of my mother or grandmother. The teacher offered little correcting or coaching for the individuals in the class. I worried about picking up bad habits and causing injuries. Dancing incorrectly can be very bad for you!

I’ve always adored Degas’ work of ballet dancers. They look so lovely even when working hard.

After graduating, the idea of taking ballet again has been a constant and distant dream. The beauty of ballet has always appealed to me; I think of Degas’ paintings, sketches, and sculptures with a fond sigh. There’s a lot about ballet (and opera) from the 1880s that embodies things I love about lolita; the costumes from that era tend towards full skirts and adornments of ribbons and lace. There’s an elegance there that I long to participate in.

The fear of trying something new is my only excuse for how long it took me to try an adult ballet class in the city. There are a number of studios that offer adult classes, most of which are “open” classes that don’t require extensive registration or commitment for an entire semester. The schedules for those classes vary, providing opportunities for a variety of potential students with numerous claims on their time.

I didn’t want to buy a leotard in advance of taking my first class, in case I decided not to continue, so I wore close-fitting clothes that followed the dress code of the school. (Adult non-professionals are allowed to wear “workout-appropriate” attire. It’s important to make sure to meet dress code requirements.) I still had a pair of soft ballet shoes from my brief college stint; my feet are the same size and the shoes are in good condition, so I wore those. It made me glad I kept the shoes!

My first class was very intimidating. The “basics” class that I took involved a number of students who commented on having been regulars to the “basics” class for upwards of three years, as well as a few people whose concentration and prowess suggested that they were dancers in need of some extra practice although personally far above a “beginner” level. I felt very shy and uncomfortable surrounded by so many new people who clearly knew what they were doing while I did not. One student was very welcome and helpful; she engaged me in conversation–recognizing that I was new–and rearranged my place at the barre so I could have two experienced students to watch during class instead of twisting around to look for the teacher. The teacher arrived and began class immediately, with no introductions or explanations. It was hard for me to keep up with even simple combinations being both unfamiliar with the combinations and unfamiliar with the individual steps/motions/positions. It did not feel like a class billed as “an introduction” with “no experience required.”

When I left that first day I felt very discouraged. I spent the entirety of class feeling like the clumsiest and stupidest person in the room. As soon as I thought I’d memorized a combination, I’d realize that I learned it wrong–and then we’d be on to the next set. My balance was almost non-existent, and I couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with my feet, or my legs, or my arms. Every time I caught sight of myself in the mirror, embarrassment was almost overwhelming. I fantasized about quietly gathering up my things and walking out.

I was feeling so down that I decided to take another session the next day. My stepfather has always advocated doing things that intimidate you to avoid being ruled by your fear. When my siblings were learning to ski, if anyone fell or wiped out, they’d be checked over for injuries and then sent right back up the mountain. He said that the longer they’d wait to try again, the more their worries and fears about falling again would crowd out the memories of how fun the experience is. I definitely find truth in that from a number of aspects of my life. So, because I felt demoralized, I went back as soon as I could.

The second class was no easier than the first, but I felt much better afterward. I felt better not because I had magically improved, but because I became more comfortable with being the clumsiest and stupidest person the class. The other students didn’t care what I was doing. The teacher even recognized me, and took a moment to express that she was glad to see I came back and wasn’t scared off after the first class. I felt so much less miserable after that class that I went and bought a leotard, determined to continue taking classes.

There was a ballet supply shop not too far from where I took the classes, so I headed over there. It was very quiet when I headed in, and the two employees were quick to offer assistance. While I was there, a teenager and her mother arrived for a pointe shoe fitting. I tried really hard not to stare, but it was so fascinating to watch!

There were a number of different leotard styles and sizes across several price ranges. (I just wanted something basic and inexpensive, and I was able to find it.) Ballet sizing can be weird, so I benefited from being able to try things on instead of relying on measurements and purchasing online. Even the same “type” of leotard could be very different–higher or lower neckline or back, differently-cut leg openings, or seams in a variety of places. I really appreciated that I didn’t feel rushed or upsold by the employees, yet they were available for information and advice. One of the women was kind enough to take a look at the fit of my soft shoes. They were somewhat uncomfortable around my toes during class, so I wanted to make sure the fit was not poor. Thankfully, she said it just seemed to be that the shoes were new enough to need more wearing.

The third class that I took was taught by another teacher at the same studio. Her class felt more like something that deserved a “basics” label. Before beginning class, she asked if anyone was new to dance or new to this studio. She asked questions to determine the varying levels of “newness” and repositioned the students to allow clear visibility for the newbies. She then outlined the proper way to stand, went through the positions of feet and arms, and provided details on motions before introducing something new to a combination. That was the type of instruction I expected for a first class. I would recommend the second teacher if I knew someone who was brand new and wanted to take a class.

Dance Studio
The studio had quite a few of the portable bars that day!

Even though it was scary at first, I am really happy to be taking ballet classes! I hope I can continue to do so, and I look forward to improving. There has to be a point at which I’m no longer flailing about like one of those wind-sock tube advertising men. If my arms, legs, ankles, and core strengthen with practice, I might eventually graduate from being “the clumsiest” to “one of the clumsier ones.” That is certainly something I can look forward to~! ♥

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