Why ballet?

I’ve known for a while that I’m not exactly a guy who lives inside the box.

Most men my age who are active do things such as softball, golf or maybe bowling. Some are a little bit bolder and still play some soft of sandlot football … although when you’re approaching 50, that might can be physically punishing.

But then again, if you’re really hard core, so is ballet.

I’ve actually been taking stock in that, re-examining my goals, when it comes to that.

I haven’t been back to class since December, an amazing thing for those who know me. Sickness and personal matters have meant only one class since the end of Nutcracker.

I miss it. I intend to plunge back in on Wednesday and just enjoy moving and being in class.

There are so many reasons why ballet shouldn’t be my favorite hobby, or passion, especially when you are male, and you’re old.

1. Ballet is unforgiving for those of us whose bodies don’t fit the stereotype. There is at least one mirror in any studio you take class, and sometimes there are as many as three. If you are hard core enough to wear anywhere near the proper attire … it is extremely difficult if you have body image issues. And while poor body image is often more thought of for girls or women, they exist for men. I’m overweight and I cringe when I see myself in a mirror, especially when most of the people I dance with are in really good shape.

But even if you choose to cover up, the mirror exposes really how “bad” of a dancer you are, especially when compared to others in the room. It exposes your lack of technique or flaws.

2. Ballet is difficult. Trust me there are easier dancer forms. I’ve taken jazz, modern, hip hop and have experienced ballroom and contemporary either as a teenager or adult. And ballet doesn’t come as easily as the other. I’ve have been in a struggle to consistently do a double pirouette (spotting it seems eludes me), one really nice tour en’lair (much less a double) and don’t get me started on doing a coupe’ jete leap with a turn or just about any complicated petite allegro. And even things I can do, tour jetes, pique turns, chaines, balance’s can look horrible if done with bent legs, feet not pointed, or the arms and head doing the wrong thing.

3. Stereotypes die hard. I put up with bullying when I danced as a teenager and in college. Even the lighter stuff nowadays “Do you wear a tutu … how is the ballerina doing today?” Even though ballet has come a long way from when I dance, there are still the questioning of sexual orientation or really how much of a normal dude you are.

I used to hide the fact that I danced. I don’t any longer. Kind of hard when you’ve performed in eight Nutcrackers, Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, Billy the Kid, Dracula and Cinderella. Still not as much “in your face” about. And it gets tiring telling people that no, I don’t wear a tutu, or a leotard (not since I was a kid) and that male dancers aren’t called ballerinas … although I’ve since embraced it, sure call me a ballerina if you like … lol And no, guys don’t normally go en pointe (more power to you if you do).

4. I find myself constantly in class with kids, including the few adults, who are pretty much young enough to be my children. Moreso this year than in the past, it can be a little uncomfortable if you are a guy. Women, maybe not so much …

So why do I do it? Why do I have a longing to get back in class? Why don’t I embrace other dance forms which can at times seem more fun like I do ballet?

Maybe it’s kind of hard to explain.

1. Ballet is my refuge. I live a stressful life. It is for me an escape. Once I walk in class, the struggles of being a parent, an over-worked newspaper page designer and stressed out back in college student are left at the door. For 90 minutes, it’s nothing but ballet. Nothing like getting lost in the music. For me, it feeds the soul.

2. Ballet works both the mind and the body. That’s important to me. My father withered away with dementia and heart problems. The fact that you’re working the mind as much as the body in ballet to me will pay dividends long after my final class is over. And the health benefits? Unless you’ve been a professional dancer who has been a little bit pushed too far past the limit, the benefits are numerous. My back has been strengthened because of the lessons of posture and proper body alignment. It used to go out about twice a year. That rarely happens since I’ve been doing ballet as an adult. Yeah, I’m a little overweight, but I’m a lot more limber than most men (and a lot of women) that I know. And my knees, because of the work, are in a lot better shape than most people my age.

3. The camraderie can be amazing. I was the only man in classes with a bunch of soccer moms for about three years. My definition is beauty was redefined by a group of ladies aged 20-something through about 70. They were encouraging and inspiring. As a single parent, I got tips galore. Even though I no longer dance with many of them, they’re still my friends. They are the reason I stayed with it when many beginners seem to flee after a few classes.

4. There is no feeling like it when you are dancing full out, when you nail that grande allegro combination … and you feel like you’re flying. Or when you are dancing in a flowy balance’, waltz turn, pas de bouree, pirouette combination. I will confess that I do love those “beautiful” combinations.

Even in classes where I completely sucked as a dancer, I’ve always felt better, my spirit up lifted when I left than when I first entered the door.

That is why ballet.

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