continuing Alphabet: A History…
I will always remember my first day of ballet class. Oh, I may not remember all of the details, like what exercises and stretches we did or the names of my classmates, but what I remember is this: walking up the two flights of rickety stairs to the attic above Thunder Bay Theater, the dust motes dancing in the early autumn air that flooded the entranceway, and seeing my dance instructor for the first time. I was either five or six, I can’t remember which, and probably had a very clear idea of what a ballet dancer should look like, and my teacher, whose name I no longer remember, matched my imagination from her tightly coiled blonde bun to her long, graceful limbs.
I took both ballet and tap classes on Saturday mornings. I was in no way built to be a ballet dancer but fortunately I was too young to know this. I loved the entire process of dance class, from the time my mother and I spent in the car as she drove me there, to running up the steps to the studio and crowding in the changing area with the other girls, pulling on tights, shoes, tightening the braids in our hair.
The attic studio had a large, floor-to-ceiling window at one end, and was mirrored on the length-ways sides. I remember dancing on mornings when the sun streamed through the window, unrelenting, and I remember dancing as snow storms beat their way across town.
I was, at best, a mediocre ballet dancer. I was much better at tap and years after my first dance classes I would switch studios and actually excel, for a while, in jazz classes, but I don’t remember any of those classes nearly as well as I remember Saturday morning ballet – I wonder, perhaps, if that is because ballet was the first class of the day? Even though I wasn’t very good, I enjoyed ballet tremendously. I didn’t harbor dreams of becoming a ballerina – my mom put in me in dance because I was too young for acting classes and I wanted, more than anything, to be an actress, even then. I recall her telling me that dancing was a skill I could use as an actress someday and, at any rate, I had to bide my time somehow since I couldn’t take acting classes until 4th grade. Perhaps that is why I recall those Saturday morning classes with such fondness? From the beginning I had no intention of becoming a dancer, and so the pressure from discovering a true talent was released? I could, as they say, just dance?
You know, it’s funny. As I write this I realize that I am not doing justice to translating the memory I hold of those Saturday morning classes into words – I mean, I can close my eyes and see the dance studio, remember the feel of dancing across the room, I can smell the leather from our ballet shoes and feel the hard wood floor beneath the balls of my feet, I remember barre work and floor work and the pull of tights against the bottom of my leotards. But I feel sad, suddenly, because I think there are so few times in our lives where we have the opportunity to do something for the sake of doing it, without it being a means to an end. I took dance classes without any desire for a career in dance, and so those Saturday morning classes really were dancing for the sake of it. Certainly we had occasional performances, and those were fun, but again, they weren’t showcases to land us in ballet school or anything.
Well, since there is absolutely no narrative arc to this piece and since it hasn’t turned out at all the way I thought, I’ll just share this one last memory and be done – this was much harder than I thought it would be. Another thing I loved about those Saturday mornings? The transition from ballet class to tap class. After ballet, which was all about restraint and diligence, there was nothing more fun that stripping off the ballet shoes in the company of a dozen other girls your age, and strapping on the tap shoes. Oh, the glorious noise of taps on hard floors – of the moment when the classical music was removed from the tape deck and something fast and jazzy came on and you could just break loose!
Anyway. Hope whatever I choose for “C” will flow a little more easily than B did.