B is for Ballet

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.

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13 Responses to B is for Ballet

  1. J says:

    I also took ballet at the age of 4 and 1/2; I was SO excited about it. A year or two before I had seen the Nutcracker and I remember sitting on my knees so I could see the stage and all the beautiful costumes and gorgeous dancers–I still can picture it. I think it might of been the first ‘job’ I wanted to have…to be a ballet dancer…I wanted to take ballet as badly as I wanted to have my ears pierced (a defining moment in my 4-yr old life!) I remember getting fitted for my leotard and how beautiful and graceful I thought the satin pink shoes were–I looked like a dancer and though I loved twirling around doing my version of the pirouette in my living room I was no dancer. I remember getting really excited when I learn the first “positions” of ballet and showed my younger sister. I think I was excited and eager to learn, but still not a dancer…After the second or third class I couldn’t ‘skip’ so the instructor told my mother I was “too young for ballet.” I was pretty upset that I couldn’t take anymore classes…I think I decided to be an astronaut next…I thought Sally Ride was pretty cool in her jumpsuit–it wasn’t as graceful as a leotard, but at least I could wear the leotard in my living room without the shame of being the only little ballerina that couldn’t skip.

  2. inthemainstream says:

    There’s a sunbaked, leathery smell that always reminds me of Saturday mornings in the dance studio.

    Thanks for the fun memories!

  3. A Free Man says:

    I like the idea – an alphabet of memories…

  4. I was a ballet kid too, and I loved it, even though I only did for a couple of years and was fairly mediocre. I agree with you that something can be enjoyable even when one is not particularly good at it.

  5. litlove says:

    Wonderful memories, Courtney. I did ballet for 12 years – wanted to be a dancer at first but grew too tall and then did it just for the sake of doing it. As you say, it’s one of the best, if not THE best reason for doing anything.

  6. Stefanie says:

    What wonderful memories! I so wanted to take ballet when I was a kid. I had a close-and-play record player upon which I played “Tina the Ballerina” over and over again and would dance through the house on my toes. Alas, I never got to have lessons, but my husband and I taking ballroom dance lessons as adults has been great fun. Thanks for sharing you memories!

  7. auntjone says:

    Neat memory! I never had any desire for dancing classes and probably wouldn’t have gotten them if I’d asked. I did have piano lessons- my teacher was a trip and we’d end up laughing through most of the half hour but that was as close as I got to the humanities.

    My niece took ballet and tap when she was a wee thing (She’s 13 now) but it didn’t last long. They HAD to take both (is that the norm? Seems unfair.) and I thought she enjoyed it so last I year I asked her why she quit. “Oh I liked ballet but I hated tap. It was too loud.” Too loud! Of all the reasons to quit tap! I laughed at that for a long time.

  8. Gabby says:

    An alphabet of memories is an amazing idea. I could picture everything you wrote about 🙂 I took ballet when I was little, but my most vivid memory is of me hiding my ballet shoes so I didn’t have to go!

    {Thanks for de-lurking…I am so glad to have found your blog!}

  9. Sherry says:

    I’m following this very closely – I even made my own start to the Alphabet Memoirs.

  10. inthemainstream says:

    Also, have you read the YA book, Totally Joe? It’s in the form of an alphabet memoir, and super fun. (I think they call it an alphabiography or something like that, but, you know.)

  11. Emily Barton says:

    So, you and I have completely different memories of ballet. I hated dancing class (took tap and ballet together for one year) and never got over feeling completely nervous every Thursday, because I knew I was going right from school to dancing class. What a relief when I told my mother I didn’t want to do it anymore, and she let me quit (something she didn’t always let me do)!

  12. Noble Savage says:

    I never took ballet but loved my tap class when I was four. I didn’t keep it up and don’t actually remember a great deal about it other than the costumes and the music for the recitals but it was definitely a fun memory. My daughter is 3.5 and just started ballet and tap on Friday. I have no aspirations of her becoming a professional dancer, I just hoped she would have fun, learn to move and stretch her body, listen to instructions, and maybe make some friends too. But above all, the fun. So far, so good…

  13. Courtney says:

    J- Hi! I’ve been meaning to call you for ages – I miss you like CRAZY. I never heard about your ballet classes before – I can totally see it. It matches our complexity, those of us who begin in the arts but ended up, even tangentially, in the sciences…
    In the Main Stream – YES. That is the smell. Perfection.
    A Free Man – I can’t claim the idea, but it is fun to do…
    Charlotte – dance is important when you are young, I think, if only to learn how to move your body…
    Litlove – yes, I miss the ability to just do something for no reason…
    Stefanie – how great you two are taking dance now, though, and it’s something you enjoy together!
    Aunt Jone – that reason is absolutely hilarious. I can see how for someone sensitive the noise would be too much!
    Gabby – WELCOME!!
    Sherry – and welcome to you, too! I look forward to reading your blog!
    Emily – hmmm, well, we couldn’t be exactly alike, I guess…I mean, that would be a bit too much, yes?
    NS – yes, exactly – I think your reasons for putting your daughter in classes are exactly right – I also think learning to listen to someone who isn’t a parent or a teacher is important.

    And, all, now that i’ve read these comments, what IS up with ballet and tap together? Is it required? How weird!

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