I had to push my wide backpacking feet into the pale pink ballet slippers in order to make them fit. 10,000 miles have been added to my feet’s history since I danced ballet. That is a lot of muscle mass and spreading out. My toes felt so cramped, the shoe kept my foot in a permanent point. This is good. It will help me hold my foot in the correct position at least. How many of the other ballet positions I would remember was scary, but at least my toes would stay pointed. I was heading to an adult ballet class and it was an accomplishment just locating my slippers after 45 years of not dancing.
My new son-in-law Eben danced ballet from the ages of 4-15. I danced when I was in middle school. I loved it. I had always thought of going back to the local dance and art institute, just to limber up and bring this art form back into my life but you must commit to a semester of classes. That schedule gets in the way of a travel writer so I never pursued it. But here in Boulder, where my daughter and son-in-law attend grad school, there is a drop in class. Eben invited me to go one evening while I was visiting. I thought it would be something very special and unique that I could share with my new son-in-law.
Eben announced to the instructor as soon as we entered the hallway of Boulder Ballet that he had brought his mother-in-law to class this evening. The women leaning against the walls with their bags in hand, looked at me with a combination of welcome and sympathy.
There was a fine mix of ages- mostly women in their 40-60’s. They did not have perfect bodies and a few had a thicker menopausal waist, but all of them were working at being a ballerina for an hour and a half of their week. That was cool.
We helped one another take an end of the portable metal ballet bars and carried them out to the center of the floor, arranging them in rows. A full length mirror lined the one wall so we could watch our form. I did not recognize myself in the mirror. I did not look anything like a ballerina. I looked like an imposter. Although I wore black tights and a black tight t-shirt, it would have been a good idea had I lost 10 pounds. I planned to avert my eyes as much as possible.
I stood in first position, heels together, toes pointed outward, chest high and arm held as gracefully as I could, with a curved hand and open fingers. I stood next to my son-in-law at the bar for moral support and watched what he did, trying to copy. Eben and I accidentally kicked one another a few times and we laughed.
I was amazed at my son-in-law. He looked transformed. I have observed him of course, walking around the world, hiking, paddling, even salsa dancing, but here he looked like a ballet dancer and this side of him was new to me. He knew the moves and the positions. He got his leg up quite high. He did not waver or lose his balance. He did not watch others to see how to do it. He was in the zone of a ballet dancer and I was very proud of him. He was the only male here amongst two dozen women and it did not bother him in the least. That is what he is used to, he said.
My husband, Todd, had a bit of a hard time accepting Eben at first. One time in particular, the couple was living at our home in an interim period in their lives. Todd planned to work together with Eben on firewood this particular day. My tight-lipped PA German husband was outdoors working away, waiting for Eben to come out and join in. Eben was in the house waiting for Todd to tell him when he was ready for him. A lack of communication was clearly going on. My husband complained later on, “I came into the house and he was sitting on the sofa, knitting! Knitting! While I was outside doing all these manly things.”
And I looked at him and said, “Why does Eben have to be like you? He can be any way he wants. The important thing is that he makes your daughter happy. Does he make your daughter happy?”
“He seems to.”
“Well that is all we should be concerned with.”
So here I was with Eben sharing ballet class. How many mothers-in-law get to do that with their new son?
I was alright with the warming up exercises at the bar. They came back to me. I was grateful I had been doing yoga in these past years when it came to bending back and stretching sideways, but still felt clunky, chunky and stiff. What this session was telling me was how far I have come from being a ballerina and from the looks of the grey haired women surrounding me, it was possible to get it back. I am sure that 90% of these women, like me, danced as young girls too. A few of the younger ones looked as if they still danced professionally but most were here for the fun and exercise and the beauty that dance brings into your life.
Once we moved the bars back to the side and spread ourselves out on the floor, I thought, uh oh, now I have to look at myself. There are not a lot of places to hide in ballet class or pretend you are something different from who you are or what you have become. But I could easily avoid looking at myself in the mirror as I had to spend most of my time watching others so I could mimic them.
I exercise nearly every day and can ride a bike fairly fast and far. I can power up slopes hiking without hyperventilating and am poised to head out onto two long distance adventures this summer. This year of turning 60 is my year to notch my fitness level up to a new height. Ballet class is reminding me that I have slipped far from a 15-year-old ballerina, but by the looks of those around me, I could get most of it back. Looking in the mirror at these adult women, there is hope.
During the floor exercises, I spent half my time losing my balance and breaking the pose. Spinning in place, balancing on a single foot that is supporting your body only by your toes, was not easy. Grace was nowhere to be found. I failed half the time but the other half, I was having a good time.
Things got more uncomfortable when we were instructed to head to the corner of the room and section off into groups of three for crossing the floor. The instructor went through what felt like a rapid succession of moves which I could not grasp. I left Eben’s side and went to the back of the group, hoping by the time my turn came, I had watched enough woman to memorize the sequence.
I felt more like a wildebeest than a gazelle crossing the wooden dance floor. Eben said no one was looking at me. I said bullshit. I looked at every single woman as they crossed, observing their form, who looked better, who I wished I could emulate. Leaping into the air, I felt fairly ridiculous and know I looked that way too. I got an A for effort but realized the rough road ahead if I wanted to try to get it back. Getting back the grace, the lightness, the magical zone and the beautiful expression that dance provides you with was worth the effort and pushing through the uncomfortable time of being rusty and chubby and out of dance shape, I thought. Had I lived in Boulder, Eben and I would be coming here on a regular basis.
Eben told Sierra that he never saw me so self-conscious and lacking in confidence. He was surprised. But he never saw me at ballet class before. This was a fairly huge move to get out of my comfort zone. I remember when I enrolled Bryce in a hip hop class back when he was 12, since he loved to break dance so much. He was the only guy in the class and crossing the dance floor one at time doing shoulder shrugs put him over the edge, he said, never to return. He said he was emotionally scarred from that experience.
I get that. I was not so uncomfortable or poor at ballet that I would not return. I may enroll in a class back home. Perhaps committing to a full semester is something I would need to commit to. You have to give some things more of a chance. One run at it after 45 years isn’t enough to judge. The other women in the class were the real gift of the experience. All of them were pushing past their comfort zone and had arrived at a place where they felt comfortable and confident and able to dance ballet again. This has been a reminder of who I have been, who I am now, and who I could be again, with some work.
And of course, the best gift of all, dancing with my new son-in-law. How special and unique of an experience is that? It was worth feeling like a wildebeest and I may just decide to become a ballerina again in my near future.