Thursday, January 13, 2011


One of my friends, who’s a year older than I am, e-mailed me the other day and said one of her New Year’s resolutions is to become more fit, so she signed up for ballet classes.

All I can say is I admire her for her courage.

Back in my younger days, I studied ballet for 10 years at the Evelyn Howard Dance Studio, which was located on the second floor of the Manchester YMCA. Poor Miss Howard must have had the patience of a saint to put up with me.

In my very first ballet recital, I was a butterfly. I had to flap my arms a lot and dance around a girl named Susan, who was a rose. Susan was dainty and petite. I was, well…jumbo petite. Susan looked so cute in her little rosebud hat and rose-petal dress, neither of which could have fit over my big toe, I found myself wishing I were a big tough bumblebee instead of a butterfly so I could do some major damage to her petals.

But I faithfully showed up for class each week, trying my best to be graceful. Many recitals followed. I was a firefly with light-up wings, a pixie all in green satin, a Hawaiian dancer in glow-in-the-dark hot pink, and a cinnamon stick in pink and purple stripes.

But what I really longed to be was a dancer in a major ballet like Swan Lake. For one thing, the advanced ballerinas’ class, unlike my class, had a guy in it, Michael. Michael had long dark hair and was very fit. He lifted the ballerinas over his head as if they were made of feathers. I was 12 years old and really wanted to be lifted by Michael.

“But the ballerinas in that class are all on pointe,” Miss Howard said when I asked her if I could join the group and be in Swan Lake. When she saw my blank expression, she explained, “they wear toe shoes, not ballet slippers.”

“I can dance in toe shoes!” I said, defiantly, though I’d never even tried one on.

So Miss Howard let me give toe shoes a shot. I soon discovered the human body wasn’t built with feet that were meant to walk on the tips of their toes. And I had a few extra pounds to carry around on my poor toes, which didn’t help.

“You’re not a real ballerina until you’ve had a blister on every toe,” Miss Howard told me, smiling knowingly, when I complained about the pain. I was beginning to think that nothing, not even being lifted by Michael’s strong arms, was worth the torture of having lumpy, deformed toes for the rest of my life.

As I teetered around in my toe shoes, my legs bowed out so I could keep my balance, Miss Howard finally made a suggestion that saved my feet (and probably my dignity). “Why don’t I let you be in the ballet, but you can wear your ballet slippers instead of toe shoes?” she said. “As long as they are white, like the other girls’ toe shoes, when you’re onstage, no one will know the difference.”

I felt like kissing her feet, I was so grateful, but seeing she was a longtime toe dancer, I figured her feet probably were full of blisters.

Ballet classes were much easier after that, mainly because I didn’t have to worry about keeping my balance or hiding my pain, and could concentrate on perfecting the actual dance steps.

Soon, I actually became a part of the corps de ballet, which was a group of about 25 ballerinas…and Michael.

I even had the chance to talk to Michael during every class, which I enjoyed. He told me that his buddies teased him endlessly about studying ballet, but he was the one who had the last laugh. After all, he said, how many other guys could say they got to touch 25 girls wearing nothing but leotards every week?

He had a point.

Unfortunately, I never did get to perform in Swan Lake, but I did get to be a sylph (a mythological being of the air) in the ballet, “Les Sylphides,” with the corps de ballet and wear a flowing white dress and a crown of flowers.

Michael, who played the Poet, was one of the lead dancers in the ballet, and so was my cousin, Carla, who performed alone with Michael in the spotlight. They moved so gracefully together, I watched in envy as he lifted her over his head as if she were weightless.

Of course, my cousin couldn’t have hit 100 lbs. on the scale even if she were soaking wet and wearing a necklace made of rocks, but that was besides the point. I outweighed her by a good 40 pounds.

After my stage debut with the corps de ballet, I switched over to tap dancing, then to flamenco dancing. Clomping around and stomping my feet seemed more up my alley than trying to be a graceful swan.

There have been many times over the years when I’ve thought about studying ballet again and maybe fulfilling my dream of finally performing in Swan Lake. But then I hear my back creaking like a rusty old hinge and I change my mind.

“Maybe you can still be in Swan Lake,” my husband said the other day when I mentioned how my friend’s e-mail about taking ballet lessons had triggered memories of my past. “You can be something other than a swan, something less challenging…like a mosquito!”

No one likes a wise guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment