Why You Should Just Sign Up
Five, six, seven, eight.
The first bars of a waltz fill the studio. Our twelve left hands grasp the bar in unison. We extend our right arms to the centre of the room and drop into a grand plie. I am standing in a room full of twenty-something women. We are all different ages, shapes, sizes and come from different backgrounds but we have one thing in common: We want to be ballerinas.
Eight weeks ago, I started a beginner ballet workshop. It was something I had talked about doing since starting university six years ago. I would walk past sign-up sheets at my university’s gym, I would Google nearby classes and would tell my friends I was "planning on taking a ballet class soon." But I never did. I always found an excuse. I’m too busy, classes are too expensive.
This past year has been a year of transition for me: I ended a long-term relationship, moved to a new-old city and started a new job. Ballet was still on my mind but the excuses were still there. Then one day, I just did it. I logged onto the website and dropped $165. And you know what? It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I have never been a great dancer, but I have always loved to dance. When I took ballet as a child, I was that kid who was two steps behind everyone else. I never cared until I reached adolescence and became more self-aware.
If I am being honest, the reason I stopped dancing was insecurity. As I get older and shed the layers of self-consciousness that led me to stop dancing as a teen, it has become one of my favourite past times. In university, I loved going to clubs for the sole reason that I got to dance. I always play music and dance around the kitchen when I am cooking. This kind of dancing comes naturally to me—it’s all about feeling the music and doing what feels good. But ballet is all about structure and rules. It’s the beauty that comes from that that drew me in. The music, the swift, elegant movements and the costumes (oh the costumes…)
The description emphasized ballet as an "exercise in mental concentration" which I never imagined I would get from dance. But the precision and concentration each move requires leaves little room for wandering thoughts. When my dance teacher tells us to jete, I think about pointing my toes, extending my leg swiftly and elegantly, then sliding it back into first position without bending my knee. I think about standing tall, like I am a puppet being pulled up vertebrae by vertebrae, always trying to be taller. “Keep your butts in,” my instructor calls out. My biceps are getting tired from holding my arm in third position for so long but there is too much to think about aside from the pain. “Remember to breathe! And look elegant!”
In ballet, perfection is impossible. Even the best ballerina in the world has a laundry list of things he or she could improve on. It sounds like an anxious person’s worst nightmare, but for me it has been the opposite. When I dance, my mind goes quiet. The constant stream of thoughts stop, the tightness in my chest lifts and my hands stop shaking. I am not trying to impress anyone or be the best in the class. It’s about challenging my body and surprising myself as my hips become a little more flexible each week or I am able to lift my leg a little higher in arabesque. For an hour and a half each week, it is just my body and I working together to turn French words into graceful movements.
When we are young, our parents enroll us in sports for a reason. It is social, it’s good exercise and it’s just plain good for us. So why do we stop doing that as adults? The hour and a half I spend twirling and jumping has boosted my self-confidence. I feel more graceful, stronger and healthier. If there is one thing dancing has taught me, it’s just how important taking the time to care for yourself is. "Self-care" is the buzzword but many of us, myself included, do not do it enough. There is a certain pride we take in hustling and working crazy hours to get where we want to go. But at the end of the day, we are not superheroes. We need sleep. We need downtime. We need to do something for ourselves here and there, otherwise, take it from me, you will burn out.
Today was my last beginner class. I signed up for level two and hugged my new dance friends good-bye. When I leave the studio, it’s -10 Celcius outside, which in Toronto practically mandates getting a hot chocolate. I go to a nearby café and do some writing while I sip my hot chocolate and watch the snow fall outside. I feel like I have recharged my batteries after a crazy week at work, after a crazy couple of months.
Whether it’s dance, soccer, improv or burlesque dancing, a new year is a good time to try something new. So just sign up. Don’t worry about being looking good (that’s the best part about being a beginner!). Just watch yourself improve, have fun and show yourself a little love. You always deserve it.
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]