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Crazy Post-Adolescent Ballet Obsession: Reflections on Almost One Year as a Ballet Squid

I am convinced that there are basically only two flavors of adult* ballet students.

*I’m using this term loosely, here — at least as regards myself.

There are those like Denis — people who go to class once a week or so, enjoy it, and even develop an extensive ballet-specific vocabulary.

People who like to watch ballet, who enjoy being around dancers, who can even carry on conversations with dancers without going all glassy-eyed at the third or fourth mention of some obscure ballet term or yet another vivid description of some random dancer’s feet. People who like ballet, dance a little, and yet somehow just float along on the surface of the roiling tide that is our chosen medium.

…And then there are the rest of us.

You know who you are. (Ahem. Hi! :::waves enthusiastically:::) Those of us who cram as many classes as we can find into our schedules, purchase untold lengths of high-powered elastic with which to strengthen our feet, and practice adagio in the kitchen as we baste the roast. Those who understand what it means to crack an ankle on the dishwasher while attempting turns a la seconde (also in the kitchen).

Those who understand that the kitchen is simply where one practices turns. And adagio. But not allegro, unless the kitchen is also really big.

Those of us who find ourselves possessed of twenty-three tennis balls, even though we don’t play tennis (probably bad for the turnout), because we bought one to roll out a kink in a leg muscle, and then the cat made off with it, so we got another, which the cat also stole, and so forth.

Those of us who have collected six pairs of demi-pointe slippers in an undying quest to find the perfect ones for our particular, unique feet (or out of simple, obsession-driven avarice; also completely valid). Those of us who can identify, among our apparently-infinite arrays of highly-similar tights, not only which are the best ones, but why — and who will simultaneously weep and take up arms if ever their manufacturers stop making them.

Those of us who can intelligently discuss the problems unique to dance belts or pointe shoes.

Those of us who automatically make up choreography in our heads whenever we hear music, including video game music**.

**Yesterday, we were babysitting our nephew while awaiting the call to come welcome our new niece to the world (the fact that this post is entirely about ballet obsession theory, and not about having a brand-new relative, should tell you something), I found myself making up little-jumps combinations to video game music — you know, changement-changement-changement-changement-echappee-changement-changement-changement and so on). Part of me thought, “I am awesome!” Another part thought, “Ye gods, what have I become?”

Those of us who take up ballet with an off-hand comment about how it can’t possibly be more expensive than racing bikes, and then later realize that we dare not even breathe aloud the sum total of the year’s ballet budget***.

***”It’s still cheaper than therapy,” we might argue — if by “therapy” we mean full-scale, long-term retreat-from-the-world style therapy at a posh Mediterranean spa on a fabulous island. Or, at any rate, it’s cheaper than buying an island. Maybe. In fact, let’s not do that math.

Those of us who — explicably or inexplicably, either because we danced as kids or because we never danced as kids, either because we always wanted to dance or because we never thought of it until one day we stumbled into a free class and then … well, you know the rest of the story by now — find ourselves utterly subsumed by the aforementioned roiling tide, upon which our arguably more mentally-balanced friends float with such ease.

My completely unscientific survey of my fellow adult ballet students suggest that the former group — the Denises of the adult ballet community — are in the minority. I am left with the impression that ballet, perhaps by its very nature, either demands or creates unstinting**** dedication. This may be partly because I follow the blogs of other ballet-mad individuals and take my classes at a pre-pro school with a pretty demanding teaching staff, but I suspect that it’s mostly the truth.

****Or, at least, unstinting within the constraints of budgetary realities.

I think that, like cycling, ballet asks a lot of those who participate. New students filter in and either get swept away on the tide or filter out again after a while. Once in a while, someone like Denis manages to stick around without becoming completely obsessed, but anyone who happens in hoping primarily for a social outlet probably tends to happen right back out again.

Ballet (again, like cycling) is at once social and unsocial. It is a near-universal rule that dancers go to class, and that classes should be made up of several dancers at least; the nature of the form demands a group. However, we don’t socialize in class. We might chat in the hallway before class. We might grab a bite to eat after. We might throw out an occasional off-hand comment (there are days that I’m that guy in class; the one sometimes can’t repress the urge to make some random comment that helps him remember something: “So, no gorilla arms?”) or an eyeroll or a snippet of banter across the barre.

We direct respectful questions at our teachers; we listen to and absorb their instructions; we occasionally trade high fives.

We do not talk: not in the sense of carrying on meaningful verbal exchanges (or meaningless ones; nothing wrong with just shooting the breeze, if you have that skill). We are not treadmill buddies (not that there’s anything wrong with treadmill buddies!): we are dancers.

We come to work*****.

*****And that’s what we call it: work. As in: “I was working at the barre, and…” To be honest, to call it anything less would misrepresent not only the sheer physical effort required but also the religious dedication we bring to the studio (even those of us who joke about gorilla arms).

We come, in a sense, to worship: the instructor, perhaps, is our hierophant, interpreting the sacred mysteries, conferring them upon each class of willing acolytes.

In short: I feel like ballet deserves devotion. Part of me recognizes that becoming so fundamentally obsessed with something like dancing is outside the realm of typical adult experience (kids, however, do it all the time) — but, as Denis says, “Average was never the goal.”

As for me, almost a year after I finally goaded myself back into the studio, I’m glad I’ve become one of the ballet-mad throng.

Dancing has given shape to my life in a way that I didn’t expect: I didn’t particularly expect it to lead me to a career path, let alone one that I’m champing at the bit to undertake. I didn’t particularly expect it to eclipse cycling as an organizing force (in fact, I rather naively expected to continue racing bikes from time to time! Ha!). I didn’t expect to restructure my life, my eating habits, and ultimately my body in service of some art form in which I may or may not ever find an opportunity to perform before an audience******.

******Who am I kidding? If I can’t find an opportunity, I’ll make one.

I write this all in an attempt to better understand, for example, why it seems so bleeding important to perfect my petite allegro, to acquire a decent set of exercise bands for my feet (I had a green one; it did not survive), to Do All The Classes!

Call it part navel-gazing and part homage to the beloved.

There you have it, though: I am happy to be obsessed. Glad that I have given up my life to the harsh mistress called ballet. Also not remotely embarrassed to be seen in public in tight and legwarmers, though it’s not like I was before (because cycling).

I have been back in the studio for almost a year, I am hopelessly obsessed, and I am the better for it.


In other news: I am officially going to the Big Burn this year. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

Tickets are purchased (as members of an official theme camp, we were able to buy tickets through the Directed Group Sale). Thus, it looks like my choreography project is a go (See? Performance opportunity made!).

So now I need to settle down, really finally finalize the choreographic framework, write it down, and start looking for other Burner-Dancers (or at least Burners who would like to try to dance; the goal is to make most of this choreography simple enough that we can teach it to raw novices).

So that’s what’s what today. I’m hoping to squeeze in an extra class this week on Friday (yes, my inner Obsessed Ballet Zombie just howled, “IT SHOULDN’T BE EXTRA!!!!!! THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE PART OF THE SCHEDULE!!!!!!!!”).

Now … where’d I put that tennis ball?

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