If you asked me a month ago to envision a ballet class, I would have pictured rows and rows of cute little dancers in matching pink leotards gliding across the room in perfectly synchronized lines. But on arrival to Introduction to Ballet for Adults, the reality quickly becomes apparent. The class is a motley crew of twenty to sixty year olds whose only shared trait, it seems, is a complete lack of any balletic experience. Our instructor, Marq Frerichs, is teaching us about the fundamentals of rhythm, movement and anatomy from the ground up, so we spend a lot of time in our first class clapping and skipping.
It’s tremendous fun—it reminds me of circle time with the toddler I used to babysit—and, of course, it’s all rather undignified. Get a group of grown-ass adults clapping and jumping and skipping around a dance studio and it’s going to get goofy.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been learning the pas de valse, the waltz step, and once a week we dutifully take turns to prance from one corner of the dance studio to the other. Picture the scene: there’s an adult, a real-life adult. They’ve spent their day at their job as an immigration lawyer or high school principal or at home grounding their tearaway teenager, taking the garbage out, filing their tax return. That is to say, they’ve spent their day as someone who people take seriously, someone who knows what they’re doing. Now picture this immigration lawyer or high school principal mincing across the room, ostensibly to the rhythm of a waltz, waving their arms back and forth like a little elfin fairy. The pas de valse is, in the hands of a seasoned dancer, a beautiful, graceful and seemingly effortless movement, but we in the beginners class know the apparent ease of this move is just an illusion. You gotta start at the beginning, so we’re learning how to cross the floor shifting weight between our feet to the specific rhythm of the waltz whilst weaving our arms from left to right.
I can’t speak to the quality of anyone else’s burgeoning technique, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that in attempting to do the pas de valse I look unharmonious to say the least. My feet don’t move in the right way or, if they do, my arms immediately stop playing along, and if I can just about manage to get all my limbs coordinated, my face suddenly sets into a rigor mortis expression of abject terror. I forget to breathe; I start to perspire. If I were to catch sight of myself in the mirror, I think I would laugh until I cry then run away and hide in a toilet cubicle.
I hate to look foolish. And I hate making mistakes. I hate not being good at something. I’ve been a know-it-all from the day I arrived here on earth, a position that does not sit well with taking up a new and very difficult skill. To be honest, these classes have got anxiety attack written all over them. Every week I have to do things I’m not good at—that make me look ridiculous, foolish, silly—in front of a group of strangers. Panic stations, right?
But the funny thing is that I haven’t been freaking out. I haven’t once run away and hid in the washroom. It could be because my classmates (who are a thoroughly nice bunch, it must be said) and I are all in this together. That is, we probably all look as silly as each other. But I think it’s because our dance instructor Marq has built, through the perfect blend of professionalism and gaiety, a space in which we are free to make mistakes, to look silly (waving and flapping and skipping and all), a space in which we can learn without fear. We have, in short, been given permission to fail.
So as well as learning how to demi-plié and how to do a grand battement, I’m learning that it’s okay to look kinda dorky in front of other people; that it’s okay to admit, “I don’t know how to do this,” or “I’m not good at this.” I guess it’s true that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs and if those eggs happen to be my delicate ego, well that’s just fine. I’ll smash it to pieces. And although I may never become a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet, I’ll definitely become a more rounded adult. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Oh, and we’re also learning how to do pirouettes which is pretty freakin’ cool. But more on that in my next blog post 🙂