I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but of course life sometimes makes that difficult.
I’m so grateful and so glad to be able to have my blog active again, yet my health junk–the fatigue in particular–can sometimes make it difficult to get words out the way I want them. Also, I have to be a little more careful and aware of what I’m writing since I work there now, but that’s not entirely difficult. (Just means some of my best stories I’m not allowed to share. Which is fair. How’s that for suspense? Hah!)
One that I am able to share happened about a month ago.
I teach private lessons to a few of the dance kids, most of them my former students. One sweet little nugget I began working with this season is my little ray of sunshine. She is a delight to work with as she loves dance so much and is very aware and astute in her observations during rehearsals.
After we started lessons, her mom, who I have developed a dear friendship with since this past Nutcracker, approached me with a question,
“Would you consider teaching an adult beginner?”
If you’ve been around a while or read any of my posts, you’ll know why this had me absolutely delighted. This is literally my entire ballet shtick. It’s how this blog is “a thing” and how I’ve managed to meet many of my dearest friends. My heart absolutely swelled knowing she was unknowingly asking me to also join this wonderful world of beginning ballet as an adult, learning to dance because your heart begs for it, and fulfilling that desire for the younger version of you that for whatever reason wasn’t allowed to.
The next week, we began.
It was an absolute thrill to work with Angel. To be on the other side of this; I was once the student, and now I’m the teacher. I was once the adult beginner, and now I’m teaching one. The full-circle moment is something beyond words, and something I truly cherish. Especially teaching someone like Angel, who is every bit what her name suggests. My life is already better having her in it, and now we get to share something that’s so sacred to me personally. It’s beautiful.
It was also interesting coming into it with the perspective I have; remembering what it felt like to be a complete beginner as a “grown up,” how your brain makes connections in different ways, but is capable of soaking up new information even if that stereotype is generally reserved for children.
We went through the positions of the arms and feet, separately then together. I explained that we mainly work out of first and fifth, that fourth and second are used more in center and choreography and in between movements of steps, and that for us personally we don’t use third much but it’s still important to learn so you know when someone asks for fifth, it’s not third. I explained how there’s different versions of third for your arms, depending on what you’re doing, but that we’d get into that later. I didn’t want to overwhelm her, and this was a lot of information, even if it’s literally the very basis. It’ll one day be second nature to her, but first it has to be introduced.
Then we went on to the basic steps I teach all my students: Plie, releve, tendu, pique, passe, soute, echappe. I talked through them and explained, giving different funny examples that helps my brain remember the details about them. She soaked it up like a sponge, making connections from what she’s witnessed in her daughters dancing and applying it to her own. It was really cool to get to watch.
From there we did some floor work. I mainly did this by asking what she’d like to work on and learn. We started with pique turns, which she picked up really well. We began the process by doing pique passe across the floor, getting used to the motion, thinking through making sure our knee is straight when we pique the standing leg and having a strong proper passe on the working leg. Then we added in the turning motion. Since Angel is an adult, I explained that it’s technically a 3/4 turn, showing how you prepare for the next turn by coming down at the right moment to place you where you need to be. By the end, she was rocking them.
We did a few other things, and ended with Grand Jete’s. I showed her the arm positions, showed how there’s different ways to get into them (as she’d witnessed with her daughter) and she went for it. She had beautiful height, straight knees, pointed toes even. Her arms were where they needed to be, all was going so well.
Then on the last one, she landed and we heard a pop.
Calmly, she hopped on the other foot, saying she thinks she rolled her ankle. We sat down and evaluated the situation, talked through what just happened, I told her she was doing the step properly and it looked really good. We told stories, she laughed, as casually as though we were sharing stories of flowers we’d seen in a field or something. She felt around on her foot, seeing if she could point it and such, then she said she felt something pop again.
One trip to urgent care later and turns out, she broke it. My friend Lillian had a similar injury a few years back when I was still dancing, and she managed it when she was doing an italian pas de chat–sort of similar in how the foot comes down and where.
Yet Angel is not deterred. This one set back isn’t going to stop her from pursuing what she desires. She’s not foolish enough to ignore the fact her body is telling her something, and we will change up our approach and what steps we will work on once her foot has healed, but she’s eager to get back to work once she’s cleared.
I admire her, both for her tenacity and for her honoring her body and limitations. So often people just exploit inspiration without considering stepping back is okay and sometimes what is wise. It doesn’t always mean you have to give up what you love, but it may mean it looks differently than before.
With my own health, it’s been difficult dealing with what I’m sure are well meaning comments from people, trying to tell me I could keep dancing if I just put my mind to it, expecting me to be driven enough to be like these “inspiring” people who fight through whatever and put their bodies through hell to achieve x, y, and z. While there’s no doubt I am driven, I also recognize that my body doesn’t give a crap about that. I have limits, and that’s okay. I’ve been lucky enough to manage to be given opportunities that keep me involved in the ballet in ways I never thought possible. They’re also ways that may have made past me sad to think about; being on the sidelines while I watch everyone do what I love. But from this vantage point, from the way my story played out, I can look back on the days I danced with gratitude and pride, being so grateful to past me that I started when I did, giving me time to do what I so badly desired before I was unknowingly approaching a time when I would be unable to. I look at where I am and realize what an absolute privilege it is to be where I am, that the path I took was a unique one, making me qualified and setting me up to fill this role in ways that aren’t typical.
Had I listened to the doubters, I would have been deprived of such a wonderful and arguably my favorite part of my life, not even knowing what I was sacrificing.
It’s not that the before was better, but that the entire story is a beautiful one. One I’m proud of.
The next time I saw Angel, I brought her one of my “Begin.” shirts I still have from when I was selling them. This is just the beginning for her. This part isn’t the end of her dance story, it’s just a chapter in it. It’s just one blog post of many as she continues on.
I’m so proud of her, and truly honored to get to be a part of it, thrilled to get to have a front row view of her progress.