From my original dance blog on Tumblr
Since this is the start of my dance blog, might as well start at the beginning. I stumbled into my first ballet class as a teenager in a very small room at the top of Fort Decatur, a former National Guard armory that’s now a parks and rec. facility.
I danced there and Kim’s School of Dance in Decatur for about a year-and-a-half before quitting when I got a part-time job. I took a couple of ballet and modern classes at as a student at the University of Alabama, but once I graduated, I figured my time in dance class was over.
Then I got the itch to try it again and tried a class at Huntsville Ballet School on a whim at 39. I thought I’d probably quit after a few weeks…
But I’ve now been at it for almost six years. I’ve posted the following on Facebook once before:
So why do I do it? Why do I have what would seem to be such an unusual passion?
I’ve been asked why on more than one occasion. And there is no simple answer.
Truth is there are probably a bunch reasons why people think I shouldn’t:
1. I’m too old. I thought that almost every time I walked into a partnering class last fall. I was about a quarter-century older than the next oldest person in there. The time to have been in the company, to really perform a starring role in a performance, to really progress as far as a I can as a dancer, those times have passed me by. I know that.
2. I’m not athletic or coordinated enough: I knew that the moment I walked in that first dance class as a teenager. I found that out playing football, baseball and basketball. Ballet is a lot more athletic than many people think. To even progress, I know I have to work twice as hard as people who perhaps have taken classes half as many years. To top it off, I’m flat-footed, overweight and at times too stiff.
3. It’s too hard: Most people have no clue how hard it is. Even the best dancers I know struggle at times. It reminds me a lot of the Christian life. It’s a pursuit of perfection that I don’t think anyone ever achieves.
4. People think I’m weird for doing this: I have to admit this is the one I fight most. The combination of being both a man and an adult come into play. When I took classes briefly as a teenager, I used to think would people think I’m gay, or sissy if they find out I’m doing it. It was one of the reasons I quit, although not the deciding factor. I do still wonder what some of my old sports writing buddies think.
I often wonder what people think when they see me at the school for class while they’re there waiting on their kids.
That said, the reasons I dance far outweigh any of those things.
1. I love it: Sure I could list more politically correct reasons first. I blame Sherrie Seibert, Vicki Butler, Phil Otto and a whole bunch of other teachers that I’ve had for making me love it so much. I loved it from the moment I walked into Sherrie’s class as a teenager (and had she not moved away after that first year, I might have stuck with it).
My favorite part of class, even though I love it all, is when we’re doing a combination where I really feel like I’m dancing. It could be something “dancy” with balances’, pirouettes and balance’ turns. It could be something really energetic like we do in grande allegro like a tour jete, pas de bouree, glissade sau de chat combination.
2. I love the challenge: I mentioned before how hard it is. There are times when I struggle and get frustrated. There are things I’ve been working on for a greater part of five years that I still haven’t quite grasped. But every once in a while I finally put something together that I thought I couldn’t ever do just a few months earlier…like the Phil Otto slide steps or combinations with glissades, assembles and jetes. To finally get something down that I didn’t think I could is one of the things that keeps me coming back for more. As does the challenge of wanting to finally do those things I’ve been working on for so long…like a double pirouette, which I’m beginning to do with more frequency.
3. The athleticism is amazing: Double tours, multiple pirouettes, fouettes, amazing leaps. I see people like the young stars in the Huntsville Ballet Company do things those things in class. I’ve seen Phil show why he was an amazing dancer and I shake my head and wish I could do what they do. Much of it is beyond my range because of age and ability…but still…
4. I love the beauty and the grace: Is it OK for a guy to say that? There is a spiritual quality in dance you can’t find on the golf course, the softball diamond or the football field. There are people in class and on stage that you can’t take your eyes off like Susan Kelly because its so incredibly amazing. And Susan’s my age, and still performing at a very high level.
5. Health reasons: I used to list this one first because maybe it explains why a middle-aged guy is in a dance class. It’s still a very important reason. My father had a massive heart attack at 41. I was doing double pirouettes at 44. He died at 63 of heart problems and had serious dementia. I’d very much like to live to be 64. Ballet is not a weight loss activity, but still, I’m more than 40 pounds lighter than I was when I started more than five years ago. Maybe its because of stretching, maybe its because of an improved posture, or the fact that I am a little lighter that my back has not gone out in more than six years. It used to go out about twice a year.
It also works the mind unlike any other physical activity I’ve ever done. You’ve not only got to try to do the steps, you’ve got to remember their order and how to do them. It is as much a brain teaser as it is physically taxing.
6. I love to perform: This one is scary. When I first started taking classes, I never, ever had any desire to perform. I had to be talked into it the first time I was a party parent in the Nutcracker a few years ago. And that first rehearsal, I was thinking my God, why am I doing this? Of the party parents, I was one of only two who weren’t former company members or hadn’t been taking classes for years (that scenario was reversed a couple of years ago…lol) and we had a complicated (for me) dance to do. The butterflies still attack me right when we go on stage, but it is an amazing feeling, one I imagine a football player must feel when he walks out on the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium. I know I’ll only be able to do minor parts, but it is really cool to perform. I’ve also been Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, and a priest in both Firebird and Dracula. And then there’s Nutcracker, where I’ve played the role of a parent in the party scene the front end of the Chinese Lion in the Chinese dance and been the bed mover in the battle scene.
7. I feel closer to God when I dance: Maybe this one should be No. 1. It is a form of worship for me. When I feel I’ve done reasonably well, somehow I think it pleases Him. When I mess up and look bad (which is often), I think maybe I make Him laugh. If you see my Facebook post and it says I’m worshipping God and knocking over furniture, that’s what I’m doing. You’d be amazed how many worship songs you can do a simple adagio too…or pas de bouree pirouette or balance’ combinations to.
8. I dance with some really inspiring people: I’ve already mentioned Susan. There’s a 60-ish woman named Claudia who really defies age with what she does. The same can be said with a group of ladies around my age I’ve danced with most of the four years. They dance beautifully. They are also among the most encouraging people I’ve ever met both in and out of a dance class. There are also the kids I’ve either been in class with or performed with. They’re amazing dancers and their dedication exceeds most of the athletes their age that I covered as a sportswriter. On top of that, they’re also good kids.
I’m beginning to get beyond what people think. That’s why I post on Facebook about it, why I write about it in my blog. I reminded of a dancer from the Bible who didn’t care what people thought. I’m reminded of King David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem. It embarrassed his wife (his clothes falling off may also have had something to do with it). He didn’t care. He slew giants and led men into battle. But he was also a dancer, musician and song writer…an artsy warrior.
I’m also reminded of one of my favorite movies, a sports one called “The Rookie”. It starred Dennis Quaid in a true story about a pitcher by the name of Jim Morris, who in his late ’30s was pursuing a Major League Baseball dream at an age when most professional baseball players have retired (sounds familiar…lol).
In the movie he tells a young rising star..”we get to play baseball today!”
And that’s how I feel whenever I enter a dance class….”We get to dance today!”