I began pre-primary ballet as a pudgy three and a half-year-old. I resented the lack of grands jetés right from the beginning, seeing Good Toes / Naughty Toes and skipping around with scarves as close to unbearably childish. It wasn’t until about Grade 3, when ballet shoes with ribbons made their appearance, that I finally felt like a dancer.
I did up to three sessions a week until I was about 15. Competitions, exams, shows; the lot. On Saturdays I did four classes: tap, ballet, modern and lyrical or drama. That’s a whole lot of training for the body and the mind – to be graceful and centred; to hold oneself softly but with a rigid core; to obey commands and push to the next level for the joy of it. And to avoid being cruelly humiliated in front of everyone. Lots of tears in those classes, though I don’t think I ever suffered too badly.
I was never there to mess around. I hated most of the other girls with a burning passion; they were usually privately-educated and snottily privileged. My mother likes to quote one particular ballet mum: “The children were making such a noise, running up the back stairs and down the front stairs, around the swimming pool and out into the orchard” or similar. The other girls had special cases for their many competition routine cassettes, and leotards with the very latest strap design from Freed. Then there was us, sewing elastic on my ballet shoes in the car park.
I didn’t fit in. When the kids like me started to get bored and leave, I was left alone with these lacrosse-playing monsters. Sitting by myself in backstage dressing rooms, reading during breaks in classes. But I kept going because I adored how dancing made me feel; I adored being good at something that didn’t feel like work to me.
Of course, it couldn’t last. Getting up for a 9am class on a Saturday with a bunch of girls you hate gets wearing. By 14, I was wishing my Saturdays away on kissing at the skatepark. I started to avoid going if I could help it. I don’t remember the final decision, which is odd. Clearly my mam didn’t make a big deal out of it – that could have been something to do with the fees though.
I’d slowed right down behind the Career Dancers, limping into Grade 8 years after the minimum age requirement. Towards the end I had no interest in passing any more grades, which is sad because I could have just got that last certificate in the set. But the preparation that goes into taking an exam was just too much by then. I had other things to think about and surviving secondary school was about all I could manage.
All this is just preamble – I started ballet again last weekend. Not a class, which is what I was after but could never find at an hour suitable for someone with an actual job. Nope: alone in my living room, guided by a perky blonde instructor on YouTube. And you know what? It was just the best. It hurt and my lack of flexibility was dismaying; but I can still dance. My body remembers how to do these things and it makes my heart leap.
I said a lot of swears at Perky Blonde but I also smiled and laughed with happiness. I did one 30-minute ballet cardio workout, and was sweating my tits off. I cooled down, then decided I needed another hit. 30 minutes of floor work. Then, guess what? 50 minutes at the barre.
I can’t describe how amazing it was to be back in the predictable rigour of pliés and tendues. I’m so pleased I got off my arse and just did it. I’ll be doing it every Saturday from now on and I know it will have a huge effect on my life. Combined with our walks (16 miles last time, due to getting lost), and being more aware of what I’m putting in and on my body, I already feel happier, healthier and more alert.
I even bought organic tunnels for my ear today. They’re ebony Omerica Organic Flatties and I think I may finally be grown-up (sober) enough to justify the price by not losing them in the first week. If you have stretched ears, go check out their range – I’ve never seen such beautiful plugs.
That’s siphoned off some excess thought for today, thanks for your attention.
And mama – you were the best ballet mum there.