And the Beat Goes On: Middle-Aged Mother Attends Dance Class (Voluntarily!)
I haven’t set foot in a dance class in 18 years. As I may have mentioned once or twice or twenty times, I was the victim of witchcraft recently (via the show So You Think You Can Dance) and thus signed myself up for a jazz dance class. I’m still trying to figure out why, after all this time, I thought that would be a good idea.
I arrive early to my first class. I think I’m 15 minutes early, but it turns out to be 45 minutes early. This is bad. And also good. Bad because it gives me a chance to talk myself out of entering that stupid class. And good because it gives me a chance to talk myself out of entering that stupid class.
I sit in my car, outside the studio, pondering my options. I see a cute, blonde girl doing perfect split handstands on the sidewalk. She gets up and walks into a restaurant, wiping her hands on her mother as she goes in. Is this the kind of Alpha Mean Girl Tween I’m going to be clunking around the dance floor with?
I decide to get a cup of coffee next door and see how I feel in 43 minutes. I take my coffee over to a used bookstore, and wander past a tantalizing cupcake shop. Coffee, books, and cupcakes: I have all the makings of a perfect evening right there, why do I need to subject myself to a giant mirror and not knowing any of the steps? I pause here to remind you that this was the fourth class for everybody else – meaning, the others had practiced the routine for three weeks already. Hey, when you’re trying something new, you might as well start from behind, too. Right??
Great, now I’m nervous, full of caffeine, and I need to pee. I decide this is a good time to enter the studio – I have a purpose! I won’t be standing around like a ding-aling wondering if I should start a conversation with someone, or just wait for class, or what. I will stride purposefully toward the bathroom!
The lobby is tiny, with two doors. Neither says “bathroom.” I check in with the girl behind the counter. She turns out to be the nice one I spoke with on the phone – she does not have the faintest memory of me. I am taken aback, having assumed a middle-aged lady grilling you about your adult dance class with a hint of panic in her voice would stick out. But, okay. Then, she resumes a conversation she was having with another dancer.
Memory-impaired girl: I was so Rory, on The Gilmore Girls. I came home on time. I did my homework. I didn’t get into any trouble at all.
Me, to myself: That girl and I will probably not become BFFs, for lack of anything in common.
I pull away and manage to find the bathroom.
I am surprised to see it’s a gallery of inspirational sayings. Not the kind of trite platitudes that make you think you are missing something in life that everybody else seems to get (“Smile, it could be worse!”). But truly inspirational ideas that spoke to me in this crazy endeavor. They are just the kinds of things I need to hear.
In fact, so smart and encouraging are these plaques that I want to take pictures of them for you. I debate for a moment, because it’s going to take some maneuvering. My camera is in my car. I am in the bathroom.
But, emboldened by the messages, I stride out of the bathroom, right through the tiny lobby, and out to my car to retrieve the camera. Then back through the tiny lobby, curious ballerina eyes upon me, and back into the bathroom for another five minutes, just to sneak some pictures. I wash my hands again so nobody thinks I am gross. Then back through the tiny lobby again, hello, everyone, and outside to put my phone back in my car. Squaring my shoulders, I enter the tiny lobby yet again, take a seat, and wait for class.
I’m sure everybody wonders what kind of digestive issues this new girl is having, but nobody says anything. I guess they respect their elders.
By the time class starts, I have the impression this studio is about the passion for dance, not absolute technical proficiency – phew. And I feel pretty good about my little camera caper having gone off without so much as a raised eyebrow. Let’s do this thing!
Class starts with stretching and dancer calisthenics (leg lifts and such). I’m shocked at how much less flexible I am than in previous days. Utterly shocked. I thought I had maintained some semblance of flexibility but I have identified Area of Improvement #1. Nonetheless, I’m feeling positive. I can keep up. And at least one person is less flexible than I am. That’s kind of what I’m aiming for here: Forget about being the best – I’m going for “not the worst.”
The teacher is very positive, as well. I’m starting to feel hopeful that I can do this all the way through without too much humiliation. Then we start actually dancing.
Here’s a sample of the trajectory of feedback I receive about my smooth moves:
During stretching: I can tell you’ve had dance before.
During across-the-floor exercises: Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
During choreography: Are you gonna come back next week?
I get in my own head way too much and it’s always been my downfall in dance class. I freak myself out that I won’t remember the steps, and then I don’t. Like, I actually have no information in my head while I’m supposed to be executing 8-counts with grace and precision. I just go blank. At recitals and stuff. In public. I get that way with across-the-floor exercises in class too. I don’t want to miss a step so I overanalyze, the music starts, it’s my turn!, and pretty soon it’s a fumbly mess. So, you can guess what happens next.
On the other hand, I’m able to feel the movement and connect to that joy in spots, too. I really like the choreography, I think it’s pretty, and it’s exactly the kind of stuff I love to do. This is remarkable, given the fact that there is NO instruction on the steps. I don’t even know the beginning position to take. The music starts and everyone just starts moving. So, I follow. I’m about a half beat behind everybody but darn it if I don’t do it all!! Notice that I didn’t say I do it well. Or even on time. But I do it!
I start to get really excited about this new kind of movement, get into the moment of it all, and suddenly it’s over. The dancers all sit down (!) and start to write in their dance journals. What. Is. That. A dance journal? In my day (said in a creaky old lady voice), we were sweating till the last minute when we did a quick cool down. You didn’t sit down until you were home. I all but shout “Does anybody else want to keep dancing?? After-class tutoring? Anybody??” I don’t know the steps, but I can follow pretty seamlessly, and it’s funnnnnn.
Somebody says they will email me a video of the choreography, so I can learn it at home (in mirror image – good luck to me).
The moral of the story is that some things have changed and some things are the same. Some are good and some are not. But whenever I touch the soul of the dance and everything clicks, even for one second within a movement and then it’s gone, it’s worth it. It feels like there’s something moving your body for you from inside. It’s like swimming and flying and dancing all at once. I love it! I’m really happy I did this, for myself. Not for some show, or accolade, or audience, but for me.
While I still can.