Reasons to Dance

But I'm Not Dead Yet

Category: aging

Once a Rockette

I sold my soul. Once. For cherrywood cabinets. Well, there may have been a few other times, but that’s another story. When I was four years old I stepped into a ballet class at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. It was the first time I’d stepped anywhere without leg braces. And the first time I felt beautiful. A moment to be defined by grace, instead of a walking mistake. Beauty. It’s hard to resist.

life through cracks

Even at four years old it’s transforming to glimpse who you might be. When I took off the black and white, metal reinforced saddle shoes and put on beautiful, soft, pink ballet slippers, I exchanged “special” for a remarkable life of rapture, pain, unrest, confidence, self-doubt, strength and music. A life waiting silently, but not patiently, in the loud souls of hard, unforgiving saddles.

If my mother hadn’t taken me inside that little pink studio with the gold “spotting” stars, I wonder if I would have had a lifetime of waiting on the outside of beauty? But, she took a chance, a risk, and did take me inside, and so the legs that were broken to begin with, straightened out and grew up and gave me a chance.

I was able to dance long enough to wear out my crooked legs. I danced in movies, on TV, and on some spectacular stages. For a moment, I was a Rockette. When that moment ended, I got married, had two daughters and moved to the desert. Which seemed like a good idea at the time. I want that sentence engraved on my headstone “Well, it seemed like a good idea…at the time.”
We moved to Chandler, Arizona to raise our beautiful girls in a nice neighborhood we could almost afford. We couldn’t afford an insecure house in any neighborhood in Los Angeles where we were currently living and working and acting and dancing very little. One day, house shopping in neighborhoods that were identical on the outside, we came upon a home that had the-most-beautiful-cherrywood-cabinets on the inside. I could not resist their beauty. So, we bought it.

Apparently, cherrywood cabinets also make me feel beautiful. I’ve been keeping my soul in those cabinets. Right next to the giant coffee mugs. And the memory of the soul freeing first day at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. 

I just never planned to be a wife, or a mother, or live in a suburb. I was under the misguided impression that I was special. I mean, dancers are at least, pretty. I thought I would always have somewhere exciting to go. Chandler, Arizona was not the first place that came to mind, but here I am. A wife. A mother. Living in a sea of stucco.

We have lived in this suburb for 15 years now. The once beautiful cabinets are starting to show their wear and tear. They creak. They don’t shut all the way. They used to be shiny with a deep rich hue. Just like us. They need to be refinished. Just like us. When the objects we traded in our souls for start to lose their value, what happens to us? Do we have the same chance for refinishing? I was refinished once when I was four years old. Ballet gave me a chance to change my story. Does refinishing truly mean- finishing again? To make beautiful – again? At the end of the story, can we still change our ending? Can ballet still save the day?

I made an important decision that lifetime ago to leave the comfort of Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio and become a dancer in New York City, and another to marry my husband, and to become a mother. I can’t say that I made any of these decisions with intelligent forethought. But, if I hadn’t first made the decision to follow the intense tugging in my soul to dance – I know absolutely that I would suck at the life I now lead. And I do still dance, although stiffly and sometimes while sitting.

If my mother hadn’t taken me out of my corrective shoes and allowed me the freedom to dance, I truly feel I would never have known…anything. I know very little, but I know I lived a dream.  I know I searched beyond the dream to find someone who loves me no matter who I am or who I will become, and who loves saying he’s married to someone who was once a Rockette.

And all of it sounded like a good idea at the time.

Because Kick-Boxing is Just Wrong

How I think I look. So, I don’t look.

I just took my first kick-boxing class in a very, very, long time. 

If the purpose was to incur an instant massive headache and kick one’s own butt – I was very successful. However, the whole time I was thinking “Give me a kick-butt jazz class any day.” Sadly, I usually find a way to think about being somewhere I’m not. It’s a coping mechanism. It doesn’t usually work.

I was so mad:

* that I even found myself in a position of needing to find a place to work out.

* That I don’t get enough time in a dance class, either taking or teaching, to maintain the skills and the muscles that have been a lifetime in the making.

* That I live in a place where a jazz class of any level isn’t offered during the week days. That, when I do find a dance class hours away from me, that I’m always the oldest in the class, and I barely get off the ground in a grande jete anymore.

* That, lately, I’m always the oldest anywhere, and ancient by comparison to the person I expect to see in my mirror.

* That there are even mirrors in a kick-boxing class reminding me that I’m the oldest, wimpiest one there.

* That I’m a strong woman who 15 minutes into a fitness level class wants to pass out, without having had the joy of a soaring grande jete, without accomplishing an athletic feat that pushes against gravity. The gravity of aging, of geography, of my world pulling me down to ground level. The level of a  kick-boxing class at 8:30 on a Thursday morning.

* I have allowed gravity to level me.

All of this anger came surging out of my pores in the form of a flop sweat and nausea. The room was already swaying just after the warm-up, when I landed my first right jab on the thing you beat up in a boxing class…I don’t know what that thing is, but it’s rubber and it moves when you hit it with all the anger of gravity pulling you down. And it keeps bouncing back. So, that anger that found a place to land, comes right back again to ask for more. And, the perfect specimen of a kick-boxing teacher, yells at you to punch it again –  in a right jab, left cross, right upper cut pattern.

And then you get to kick it.

Not like a ballet dancer with control and a light lift at the end, but a sharp, vengeful thrust of your heel. Again, and again, and again.

And all that fury fueled by a life now lived on the outside of civilization, finds something to beat up. Again, and again, and again.

I could not flatten my fury with that rubber thing you beat up. I didn’t have enough energy. I wasn’t strong enough. And that rubber thing you beat up, even though it kept moving away from me through my wimpy,  yet perceived powerful swats, I kept following it. I didn’t let it go.

I could only punch and kick to rhythm of the music. I could only start on the first beat, after I counted in “5, 6,  7, 8.” I stopped to tie my shoes, to wish for my heart to remain in my chest, to drink not enough water, to pray I could finish the class with the slightest thread of dignity. Yeah, the dignity thing was a wash.

Kick-boxing may be the anti-thesis of ballet. It may be a symbol of giving up. Right now, it may be the best workout available to me to gain strength and freedom. I hated it. It was great. I’m going back.

Maybe, if I can stop comparing this class to my cherished moments in a dance studio, I can get the indignant rage to stay in that rubber thing you beat up. Then maybe there’s a chance I can let go of the need to make where I live, something it is not. And, I’ll eat something first. That might help everything..

Kick-boxing is only wrong because it isn’t what I’ve found to be right so far. 

Reason to Dance # 872.5: Strength and grace under pressure. Even when the you’re the oldest ballerina in boxing gloves.

*Just to be accurate, I can drive an hour to find a dance class, late on a Monday night.  I do make it to that class on rare occasions, due to my schedule. I’m so grateful that it exists, I could cry. http://www.abbybelladance.com

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