How surprised I am to find myself nine months into Adult Ballet classes. I struggled painfully through ballet classes as a teenager while loving modern dance class. I considered ballet a hip destroyer that expresses movement from an era we should leave behind. Grinding your body into grid like perfection while on the outside trying to be ‘pretty, little and quick’.
I was at a neighbours annual Xmas party last year when a woman came up to me all aglow and told me she was finally living her childhood dream of taking ballet. She had been studying for a year and had just gotten point shoes! I was intrigued. This enchanting woman was in her 70’s.
An itch I had never properly scratched floated up from my subconscious. Ballet – the struggle not to be awkward and stupid and shamed. Was there something to be solved here, something to be faced, and if not conquered, at least met with the perspective that thirty years can inform?
I looked up the classes where my friend studied, ‘Align Ballet’. It was down the street and I signed up for ‘Align 1’, a workshop for beginners. I was comforted by the idea of it – a ballet bar gone over in minute detail, something for a true beginner. I wouldn’t be expected to know anything. The class held almost thirty women and men ranging in age from early 20’s to mid-60’s. Some had already done some serious shopping and wore backless lace leotards with matching skirts and leg warmers and some wore sweats. I had on some ancient leggings, a t-shirt and brand new ballet shoes where my feet felt trapped and longed to feel the floor.
An ex-ballet dancer named, Michael Cornell, developed the technique and taught the class. Not having a classical ballet body, he struggled to develop one and after many years of dancing professionally he moved into personal training. He believes that if you start teaching ballet by simply copying the shape, the movement, all else will follow. ‘I can make that shape, no big deal.’ Then adjustments get made once the brain starts to wire in the shapes and get comfortable with making them. Yes, I can make that shape, I can copy the movement.
And then there is the music, mostly classical, some modern lyrical. I felt my old dance neurons start to fire and feel the joy of moving in rhythm with a roomful of people. My legs and feet felt almost dead. Numb stumps that were being asked to articulate and respond in a sophisticated way. But they wanted to, they wanted to answer the call and have that lovely liquid energy flow through them as they were being challenged to be more alive, to carry me, hold me, turn me. Inside, I felt moments of floating and connecting to the music and moving with hard working strangers. On the outside, when I glanced in the mirror I would see what looked like an animal being slowly poisoned as I did my best to ‘make the shapes’. Michael is telling us how beautiful we look and it sounds like he believes it. I know he means the good kind of beautiful – pure human effort and I deeply appreciate his perspective, we all do.
After six weeks in ‘Align 1’ I moved on to ‘Align 2’ which finishes up what a ballet bar is and adds a few movements in the centre. About ten of the people have dropped out. Ballet is a language, like math, it’s not for everyone. I didn’t think it was for me but I find myself committed to solving something I know I will never solve. Facing ‘the Fool’ that all beginners are faced with I have decided to dance while Rome burns. In this mad world, I only have my body and what it houses so taking moments to meet a poetic self seems like a life line.
*Next up ‘ALign 2’ – open classes and a new teacher, Bjarne Hecht.