Tag Archives: adult dancer

Being a little nostalgic

When the Internet was out the other night, got a little nostalgic from my performing days.

This the opening scene from our production on Billy the Kid, the only video clip I’ve ever put on here of me dancing.

Not all beginning classes are equal

If you’ve read my blog long enough, you know I have a love-hate relationship with beginning ballet classes.

I love the technique building part of it. Fundamentally, I know I need to get better.

The pace of the class, that’s a different story. After taking intermediate, advanced and company level classes, there are times when I loathe the pace.

I love to move. I love doing complicated combinations across the floor during center work (something I never thought I’d say when I returned to dance as an adult).

Most of the beginning classes I’ve had in the past few years, we’re lucky to be off the barre with 15 minutes to spare in class.

Because of sickness and wacky weather cancellations, I wasn’t entirely looking forward to taking a beginning class Monday night, But I worked too late Sunday night to make my usual intermediate open class on Monday morning.

It was my first opportunity to move, to take class in two weeks,

I was expecting a painstakingly slow, OK here are the positions and tendu kind of class.

I was pleasantly surprised by the class I got.

It was taught by a former company dancer I once danced with in class. She moved back home this year after graduating from college.

The tempo at the barre was actually more intermediate, even though the combinations were basic. It was really cool.

And we hit center halfway through class. I was totally shocked.

We worked on the fundamentals of a pirouette to be honest that I sorely needed,

But then we ended up moving through somewhat complicated combinations across the floor for a beginner class. There were five of us. Two ladies who had some experience and two ladies who were pure beginners, and myself.

I felt sorry for the two pure beginners, But I was enjoying the chance to finally get to move, to finally get back into a routine.

I also had a chance to focus on technique. I’m flat-footed, so it was an eye-opener to me that I dance a little too much on my heels. And it was a jog down memory lane to get a refresher on the eight facings.

I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things, but the weather may not be cooperating.

We’re expecting a somewhat rare snow storm in Alabama to hit just as tomorrow’s open advanced class is ending, Since I have a commute and have to cross a bridge to get to class, it may unfortunately be a no go,

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.

The Road Not Taken

We have an assignment in my web design class to create a poem page based on our favorite poem.

It did not take me long to come up with my poem. “The Road Not Taken” seems to be a constant theme in my life. So many of the roads in my life have been the roads less traveled, most of my choice, but others not so much.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Robert Frost’s poem is my love for ballet, and that very first ballet class I took as a teenager.

I can’t really remember what the lure was that had me wanting to try a class. I saw “Children of Theatre Street” when I was about 10, and an ABC Afternoon Special called a “Special Gift” when I was in middle, and it struck a chord with me.

I don’t remember what was harder, telling your parents you wanted to take ballet, or actually scraping enough courage to walk into a ballet studio for the first time. But I do remember hearing from my father that ballet “was for girls,” and in Alabama back in those days it was true (and for the most part, still).

The road was full of boys on the way to football, or baseball. And for the record, I traveled both of those roads. I love both sports, although I was lousy at baseball.

The road on the way to a ballet class, or just about any dance class, for that matter, was pretty much empty for me. 

My heart was pounding that day I walked into that class on the top floor of Fort Decatur, a former National Guard Armory that was converted into a recreational center as a 16-year-old. And the class was a recreation sponsored one (which they no longer have), taught by a young teacher who was still dancing in the company I now perform with on occasion.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this … What have I done … I don’t belong here … what if someone I know finds out I’m doing this,” were the thoughts running through my head when I saw my classmates … leotard clad teenage and preteen girls. There were about 10 of them.

I think they were as shocked as I was that I was there. 

Madame Sherrie, our teacher, gave about a five minute speech about the fact that boys and men belong in ballet, and that ballet, in her opinion was not complete without them.

It made me feel a lot better. And I think it made the girls feel better, too. To their credit, they made me feel welcome. And one remains a friend. She now sits on one of the local school boards.

Yeah, I took a little ridicule going down that road not taken. It wasn’t easy.

It introduced me to things that most boys in the South never experience, ballet shoes, tights, unitards, jazz class and dance recitals.

It also introduced me to a lot of fun that I would not have experienced had I not taken that road. One cannot put into words how it feels when you are caught up in a dance, or how it feels like flying when you’re sailing through a tour jete during a grande allegro.

It was a lot of fun I missed out on when I gave dance up after college.

I’m so glad I rediscovered that less traveled road later in life as an adult … and let’s face it, it’s still a road usually not taken if you’re an adult, male or female.

But like Frost says in his poem, taking that road not taken has made a huge difference in my life.

Pardon me, did I stumble into the company girls class by mistake?

That’s how today’s open class felt when I walked in.

Basically, there were about 14 company girls and me, and they included probably the top two or three remaining girls in the company, the ones who will dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy and Cinderella this season.

A few years ago, that scene would have seemed really awkward. But since company kids make of the majority of the classes I take during the regular year, it almost seems like the norm, minus the two or three company guys who have departed for bigger and better things. Having them in class has helped the comfort zone a bit, along with an occasional, brave older recreational soul, male or female.

Of course, being the lone non-company member means having to keep up with their level. I didn’t expect Deb W., our teacher, to teach down to my level, and she didn’t disappoint. It was tough, but I thought I kept up with them pretty except when we did tendu quises and cabrioles to the back. Those are things I understand in theory, but can’t quite get my body to cooperate.

It least when it comes to cabrioles to the back, my timing and range of motion seem to be a little bit off. As for tendu quises, I understand the concept, but they were a mess in a combination that also included sissones.

But still, overall, I felt I had a good class. My pirouettes were cleaner today. And my second attempt on turns from second (the sort of male variation of fouettes, which the girls did) were the cleanest I’ve done in ages.

And the most important thing about class is that I felt so much better physically and mentally after we were done. I’m loving this week of class and look forward to closing it out with a class from Mrs. O. on Friday.

Given the makeup of the classes this week, I am wondering about the number of guys who will be dancing with the company this year now that the regulars I’ve danced with have departed. I’ve had a camaraderie with them, especially two of the young professional guys.

We’d occasionally go out and get a drink after rehearsals, classes or performances. They made it a whole easier for an old guy who has found himself in classes with amazingly talented girls who are about the age of his daughters.

To the girls credit, my presence has never seemed to bother them. They’ve always been nice and encouraging. And in classes like the one we had today, they seem to push me, too.