As I entered the room memories flooded back to me. A similar space where I spent endless hours of my adolescent life was staring back at me. The place where I perfected an art and thrived through this alternate form of expression. As if my twelve years of intensive dancing were reflected back at me, I just stood there as I began to enter elderly ballet class with my grandmother and her friends. I am greeted by Ms. Emily who gives a warm welcome to both myself and the other students. Though at this age I would consider them less as students and more as participants. After the clock inches nearer and nearer to the beginning of the hour we will spend together, the chatter slowly begins to soften. Without being told, one by one we all begin to make our way to a spacious spot at the barre. Setting ourselves up, water bottles are placed perfectly on the floor by our spots, and sweaters and jackets are peeled off. The teacher makes a formal welcome to the class, “Welcome everyone, so glad you are all here today for ballet. We are going to begin here at the barre with some stretches.”
The kindness and warmth of the instructor is so different from the past. My old teacher’s voice from back in my dancing days echoes in my mind. “You are late ladies!” she would often yell, even though it would be ten seconds before class was to begin. “Get to the barre, we are already running out of time!” As I reflect over these memories I also cringe at the feeling I would get when my teachers would scream, the unpleasant screech ringing over the entire studio. Today, class is full of fun and enjoyment, for the hopes of feeling youthful again. Back then it was so serious, almost like a full-time job, though the results of the past were magnificent of course. The platinum awards at elite dance competitions, the glory of performing for family and friends after a year of preparation, all of this came with a feeling of accomplishment. But it came with a price, that price being years of dedication and preparation. It came with strict habits of constantly striving for success and settling with nothing less.
Here today, the women are warm; Ms. Emily is cheery. Few corrections are vocalized by her and the absence of stress sings in the air. When I was young there would be constant correction and yelling, “Point your toes! Turn out from the inside of the thigh!” Class was fast paced yet never ending. Today class began a little late, starting with a simple plié combination to sweet piano music. I was praised for my technique, even though I hadn’t danced in years. All those long hours of dancing really did pay off. It all came pouring back to me – the muscle memory took over. Dance became fun again, just as it was when I first began when I was a toddler, when we would flutter around like butterflies.
The most memorable part of it all back in the day was the feeling of being on stage. That was what made all the hard work pay off. After a long few days of dress rehearsal, we would finish and go home for the night. In the excitement and nervousness of being on stage for our recital, I would try to sleep. Eager to show our family and friends all that we had worked towards the following day meant tossing and turning the night before. In the morning I would pack up my twelve costumes and hit the road for the theater.
I reminisce, memories of hair spray consuming the air in the dressing rooms, bobby pins flying and makeup carefully perfected. Our costumes each identical to one another, crisp pink point shoes each tied the exact same. Our tights powder pink and seamless. We each wear the same pink bodice which meets pink tutus at our waists. Our hair is pulled back into high buns, crusted in hairspray. And our makeup is indistinguishable. All of this helped us distract from the nervousness.
We knew showtime was close when we began to line up in formation order. The lights went black and we ran to our places, then froze completely in our opening poses. The curtain rose slowly and the lights filled the room like the sun rising in early morning. For a moment the lights are on and there is definite silence as we wait for the introduction of our music to begin. The first note of the music strikes and so does our adrenaline. We carry through the motions that were once difficult, but after so much practice the movement is mindless.
Today we are not building up to a performance, we are simply enjoying class time together. This is much different from my dancing past. Today class is simple, enjoyable and inviting. “Thank you for a wonderful class ladies, see you all next week,” Ms. Emily declares at the end of our hour.