Monday, May 2, 2011

Ancient History

No, that's not a self-description. It's just the content of this posting.

When I was very young, maybe about 5 years old, I told my parents I wanted to take ballet classes. I don't know why, but I was very serious. I was told I was too young, and if I was still interested when I was older then I could. A few years later my mom got application forms for me to take a class, but by then I'd realized that it "wasn't cool" for a boy to dance. It was the 1960s, and attitudes were different back then.

For the first couple of years of the '80s I dated a girl who was very into ballet. She took classes on a regular basis, even if it meant cutting into her food budget. Spending time with me often meant spending time in the university computer lab where I was lab monitor, and she took to bringing her ballet gear so she could practice if she got bored. I remember looking out over the lab more than once to finding her leading a group of computer science students through ballet exercises as they waited for computer time. I have fond memories of my time with her, but I was never moved to take classes myself.

In the mid '80s I found myself with a new job in a new town, knowing almost no one. Recalling fond times with my dancer girlfriend and looking for social activities I very nearly enrolled in a rather formal dance academy, but instead signed up for classes at a local community center. Like everyone I started with the basics: first, second fourth and fifth positions (my instructor considered third to be a "half-assed fifth" and never used it). I struggled with "Ballet French", learning the sounds of the words and associating them with actions. I struggled to gain a modicum of the flexibility that the women in the class took for granted, and found joy in jumps that these same women couldn't match. But most of all it was fun. It took my mind off everything else for an hour or so.

After a couple of years the instructor asked me and a guy who had recently joined our class to come an hour early and work with the girls' pointe class. The girls were young teens of varying skill level. Some showed real skill, while others barely clomped through class sounding like they wore horses' hooves. Our job was to carry a girl through a jump and set her down gently. Those with skill leaped into the air, requiring just a bit of an assist to reach full arm extension and then cushion the descent. Others could barely clear the floor on their own, and were lifted through brute strength to mid-chest before being lowered to a noisy thunk of a landing, hopefully clear of our toes.

Somewhere along the way I stopped going to class; I don't remember exactly why. It may have been buying a house that made going to class inconvenient, or it may have been the job on the other side of the city that had me getting home after class was over. For whatever reason I moved on.

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