When I was 21 I got a tattoo of a graceful dancer painted by the artist Alfonse Mucha. I got the tattoo for many reasons, one being that it represented dance. I remember saying, “Well if there’s one thing I know for sure I will always dance.”
Cut to 10 years later. I am 30 years old and a new mom. I haven’t danced since performing for a short video at film school, and that was over 6 years ago. I haven’t been to a dance class in about 9 years. I’ve been away so long I don’t feel welcome anymore. I don’t know what people are wearing. I don’t know if things have changed drastically since I’ve been gone. I want to dance again but I’m terrified. I give myself a million excuses as to why I don’t just go take a class.
I tell myself: I’m too old. I may not remember anything.I don’t know if my body could do it anymore. I don’t have ballet shoes. If I get ballet shoes, I don’t remember how to sew on the elastic properly. I don’t want to wear a leotard, especially with my new post-baby body. People will know I’m not a “real” dancer. I’ll be an outsider. I’ll be judged.
The irony is, for the past 6 years I have been living 8 blocks away from Steps on Broadway, a world renowned dance studio that offers classes for all levels in all styles 7 days a week. I walked by it many times and glanced longingly telling myself that I didn’t belong there.
Dance and New Mommy-Hood
My love for Emily is all consuming, and often I find it hard to remember who I am besides her mommy. Recently I spent my first night away from her. I was so nervous and scared to leave. My sister in law comforted me and told me to enjoy myself. She said, “You’ll remember that there’s a Jessica without an Emily.” So true, so profound, and so easy to forget.
I realized a good way to get back in touch with myself would be to dance again. So, with the encouragement of a close friend, and the support of my husband, I decided it was time to get back at it.
Making a Move
Step 1: Order ballet shoes.
I went to Capezio’s website, and placed an order for what looked like the most comfortable ballet shoes. When they came in the mail I was surprised and relived to see that the elastic was already sewn on, score!
Step 2: Find a class to take.
I grappled between taking “Basic Ballet” for people who had little to no experience or “Beginner Ballet” for people who had at least one year of training. I thought, okay, I have had over 10 years of training, but I’ve also taken ten years off. Where does that leave me? I decided that I probably knew enough to take Beginner Ballet.
Step 3: Get my butt to class.
My husband asked what I wanted to do on my first Mother’s Day. When I saw there was a Sunday morning Beginner Ballet class it felt like everything had aligned. I would celebrate my first Mother’s Day by treating myself to a ballet class. *Gulp.
The Day Arrives
There I was at Steps. I was so nervous when I saw people wearing leotards, tights and ballet skirts with their hair pulled back perfectly in a clean bun. Maybe I should make a run for it! I would stick out like a sore thumb in my yoga pants and tank top, messy hair on top of my head. But then I saw a few people who looked like me. Okay, I guess I wont stand out too much. I could do this. *Exhale.
I found my place at the barre and felt a bit awkward. Should I start stretching? I just wanted class to begin. I looked around and was amazed at the 20 people in the room who decided to take a ballet class on a Sunday morning. This had been going on for the 6 years I lived down the street? I had no idea.
Then class began and I felt like I was HOME. With each plié and movement of my arms, I felt free. It felt like my whole body was smiling. What I love about ballet is that there is a clear vocabulary. No matter where you take class or who your teacher is, each class is built from the puzzle pieces of that vocabulary. That means there is a familiarity and safeness to it.
While I practiced the ballet barre that morning, I was transported back to the 10- year-old girl who was trying ballet for the first time. I thought of Miss Norma my spunky ballet teacher and felt love and appreciation for all she taught me. I was again 18-year-old Jessica deciding to major in dance in college, intimidated by the other dancers around me. I thought of Robyn my teacher then, and how much I enjoyed her wittiness and humor. All of this came crashing back at me all at once. I felt GRATITUDE.
Dancing to Dance.
It was also the most freeing feeling to take a ballet class for no other reason than I wanted to. I wasn’t trying to “get better”. I wasn’t trying to “be the best”. I had nothing to prove. It felt like I flowed more freely during that ballet barre than I ever have before.
My favorite (and the most challenging) part of class was coming into the center of the room. There was a moment when I looked at my reflection and my first reaction was “Wow I look different.” During my years as a dancer, I would see and judge myself in the mirror every single day in class. Now I saw someone new reflected back at me. My hips looked wider, and my stomach wasn’t flat. I looked older. And guess what? I didn’t care. I thought, “Yes, I do look different, I AM different. I am 30 years old now and a mother. I am still me but a new me too.”
Taking the Literal Leap
As we got to the last combination I was excited to do a saut de chat, a big leap I used to love to do. When it got to me my turn I gave it my all. I ended the combination with a BIG leap. When I landed my leg gave out and I almost fell, catching myself with my hand. A kind woman who was near me said, “Are you okay?” I said short of breath with a huge smile, “Yes, wow. I haven’t done that in a long time!”
Class was an invigorating experience. Did I mess up? Of course. Was I rusty and stiff? Yes. Did my body feel exhausted? Absolutely. Was I sore for a week? Yup, I felt like a stiff wooden soldier. Surrounding all of that discomfort though was a feeling of reconnection to a part of myself I had neglected for years.
Why reconnect now?
Having a baby has changed me. I thought about trying a ballet class again for years, so why is it that I finally did on my first Mother’s Day?
Emily inspires me. I see her presence and awareness and awe. It makes me see things that way again. I see how she has been born with innate qualities. She loves observing the world around her, seeing other babies, looking a herself in the mirror, reading books, and watching our dog Romeo. She loves when I sing the ABC’s or say “Mamamama, Dadadada, Bababa.” She has a natural sweetness. She has a voice. She is quiet. She is loud. She just IS. I guess that makes me think- who was I before life got to me and shut down a lot of my inside? Where are those parts of me that I lost touch with, ignored, neglected? Are they still there?
I want Emily to grow up seeing a mom who does things because she loves them. I want her to see that I do things for myself just because I want to, and that I am happier because of it. I love the idea that Emily will grow up seeing a mommy who goes to ballet class a few times a month because she loves it. I think I’ll even get back to tap class too!
Life Takes Different Turns
As a kid I guess I always envisioned being a dancer as my career, and I did do that for a while, just not in the way I had thought. When things didn’t go how I envisioned, I quit. It would be sad if that part of me lay dormant and if Emily never saw it. I would like her to see my whole self, not just parts. Dance is a part of me.
Why is it that we stop drawing, painting, playing, dancing? When do we decide that it’s time to give up our “childish pursuits”? I propose that we don’t give them up. Life is always going to bring us to places we couldn’t have planned for, and maybe things don’t always work out how we dreamed. If you look around at where you are though, you may notice that life is beautiful and you’re right where you’re meant to be.
I was right when I got that tattoo at age 21. I WILL always dance, it may just look different than before.