It is 9AM TUESDAY, and I am entering a Ballet Studio for my first ballet lesson in sixty-two years. Yes, you heard right! I know! How did I dare to put myself in front of a ballet barre at this age? I went with friends to a performance by the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine. I had not been to a ballet for many years, and it spiked some of kind of yearning to put my body through some basic balletic poses.
I am an older woman now, and not the young girl I had been when I did my last ballet-barre work at the age of thirteen. Did I stop to think, ‘can I do this’? Obviously not! It was a visual aberration in my head. I imagined myself at the ballet barre bending and stretching as I had, many years before. I imagined my limbs unfolding to the music, arms and legs perfectly positioned and ready to unfold. However, that’s all it was – imagination! The reality was very different. Nevertheless, I was determined to test myself.
The class was advertised as a ballet lesson for older ex-ballet dancers. How hard could it be? I was never classified as a ballerina, although I did dance a few times, on the stage of my home-city’s town hall, until I was thirteen (after which I preferred ice skating, but that’s another story). I was five years of age, when I joined a coterie of baby-ballerinas in pink leotards and ballet slippers with tiny buns in our hair.
Our first lessons always started at the barre in first position through to the fifth position. Back then, we stretched our small arms and legs for the first part of the lesson. The second part of the class was ‘free form’ dance movement to classical music (what else?) Our teachers were professional dancers, slim as reeds: their whip-like bodies resembling tightly- coiled springs when demonstrating the exercises.
At 70-plus, when the madness came upon me that I should attempt to do, what I had done, many, many, years before, there I was, propped up by the barre, awaiting our first instructions. Unfortunately, my body immediately declared me ‘unfit for purpose’ and rebelled at the first Plie (French for ‘to stretch or to bend). It wasn’t a ‘Grand Plie’ like real ballet dancers do, just a simple barre bend, and I barely managed to head my derriere south, with a not so supple grinding of the knees, along with the Tutor’s curt reminder to ‘keep those backs straight! Pull those heads up!
I had sailed through the first to fifth positions easily, and it was as if my body recalled them perfectly. Admittedly, I had a few practice runs before I ventured to do this. I wasn’t totally silly! There I was in my long-sleeved T, and my pair of leggings, determined to ‘fix’ my body’s inner core and to address the issue of the dowager’s hump I’d aged-acquired, by imploring my muscles and bones to ‘please obey’. Well, they didn’t! I can’t say I was surprised given that I had been jolted into reality, less than twenty minutes into the class. The fanciful notion that I was an ex-ballet dancer wafted into the ether, laughing in my face, and I wondered if I was the only one experiencing the non-plussed emotions, along with a body that refused to comply.
There have been times in my aging life when I have thought of myself as a young girl, inside, but this lesson proved beyond all doubt, that I was neither a girl, nor young! During the class, whilst doing our ‘free form’ dance, some of us found ourselves laughing joyously. The lesson tutor (no tutu) was petite, graceful, and beautiful. We, frankly, did not exactly fit the criteria. The music was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and our bodies came into their own.
When we moved with that glorious sound, we found our own unique body rhythms, and a freedom in the movement which, no doubt, most of us hadn’t experienced for decades. The experience was exhilarating and even the aching muscles did not deter me from thinking that I’d do it again, in a heartbeat. Whilst it was a ‘lesson in Reality’, it showed me that life could spring a few surprises, still, and a bit of joy too, when one rises to the challenge.
© Tropical Writers Inc 2024