About two years ago I decided I had to do something new. I was unhappy, feeling isolated, and fed up with what I had just accepted to be my reality. I was lazier, fatter, and sadder than I had ever been before, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell happened? This was a general wake-up call for me, and I began writing more, participated in NaNoWriMo, starting running regularly again, became more active in seeking out things I enjoy, and decided to pick something back up that I hadn’t had the guts to try in years: ballet.
I’ve always wished I continued with performance arts like acting, singing, comedy, or dance. Let me be clear, I was never good at any of these things. I’m a moderately decent musician, but that is the extend of my performance-oriented talent. Despite that, I really enjoy them. I was in drama club in high school, took voice lessons for a few years, and even gave stand-up a try in my early 20s. Ballet was something I started as a small kid and then dropped after a year or so because they suddenly wanted me to do more than twirl in my tutu. My aunt was my first ballet teacher as a kid. She herself was an incredible dancer with an impressive history, so I’m sure my yelling and screaming and refusal to do even half a barre really sat well with her.
I didn’t try ballet again until college when I took adult beginner ballet classes with a friend. I did that for a little, but school became demanding and ballet was an unnecessary expense (in both money and time). Ballet always appealed to me, however. I watched the Royal Ballet’s performances of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake over and over again as a kid. It wasn’t a big stretch that I decided that ballet would be the thing I did to remind myself that old people can still do new stuff and continue to learn and grow. It’s never too late to try something different, and I really needed to prove that to myself at the time, because I was in serious danger of slipping into a Netflix wormhole for the rest of my life.
I found a place right down the street from my apartment: the Carle School of Irish Dance in Endicott, NY. Erin Saddlemire, founder of Purely Technique Dance, taught adult ballet there once a week. I got in contact with her and really liked her relaxed vibe. Since it was so close, I decided to give it a shot. I was so nervous. What would the other people in the class be like? What was Erin’s teaching style like in the studio? How long had they all been dancing? Would everyone laugh at me? I wasn’t going with a friend this time, I was going completely alone. And, as it turned out, everything was fine! The class was small, the Erin was awesome, and the other students were excited to have someone new in the class. It was the perfect safe space for me to stumble (literally and figuratively) as I tried to learn something challenging.
After about a year, I finally started taking dance seriously. I watched videos, read blog posts (Adult Ballet Project is a really great one), and tried to practice at home as best my space would allow. When I had to move about an hour away from Endicott last year, I decided to continue driving down once a week to dance with the people I became friends with in the space I was most comfortable. But I also decided to take classes closer to home with the Ithaca Ballet. Those classes were more intense and structured, and I never would have been able to set foot in that cloud-like studio (seriously, the inside feels like being in a cloud) if I hadn’t been taking classes with Erin for over a year already.
It was intimidating, but I got a lot out of it. I was taking three classes a week between the two studios and I could feel myself improving. And then Erin asked me if I wanted to perform. Like an idiot, I agreed to an adult performance in a charity show she was putting on, and I instantly felt like I was going to throw up even though the performance wasn’t for months.
The last performance I was in was the Firebird in Ithaca with my aunt when I was four. This was a bit different. We worked on Erin’s choreography every week, putting more and more of the piece together. I would actually be dancing. I would be expected to turn and jump and look graceful on a stage in front of a real live audience. No. No no no no no. During dress rehearsal I was shaking so hard on the stage I was dizzy. Well, in the end I did it. I got to wear a pretty badass tutu, and it felt good to be really nervous and be pumped full of adrenaline again after so long. The last time I felt like that was before a track meet in high school. It reminded me of what I could still do. I was not good. I messed up a lot. I did not look graceful, but that’s ok. No one cared. I was proud of myself for even doing it in the first place. And just to think, I could have been stuffing my face full of Doritos and watching Star Trek on the couch, depressed as fuck, instead.
This attitude of not settling for the uninspiring pattern I’d slipped into ultimately inspired me to look into changing my career and apply to graduate school, and while it is definitely exhausting to be constantly going to classes and, like, “bettering yourself,” it’s worth it because it makes the tough days a bit less tough.
Last night was my last class in Endicott, and Saturday will be my last class in Ithaca. I’m sad to be leaving my two studios here in New York, but Pittsburgh has so many options for dance. I’m hoping I have time for at least one class a week while I’m in school. The Pittsburgh Ballet offers lots of different adult classes and is a reasonable distance from my new apartment. I could learn a lot there and also stay up to date on local ballet events and performances. Does anyone have any other recommendations for ballet or dance studios in general in the Pittsburgh area?
I really love ballet and am surprised at how excited I still am about it. Because of this I am going to be talking a lot more about it here. Is anyone else a super late-comer to dance or other activity that is usually started as a child?