To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. —Agnes De Mille
When I slip into my pink canvas ballet slippers to walk into the dance studio wearing all-black leggings and a top covered with a pink chiffon skirt that swishes as I move, I’m transported to the stage. The pianist begins to play as we plié.
As a little girl I loved my twice-a-week ballet classes and especially enjoyed the annual recitals where we’d don tutus, pointe shoes, and dance a story created by my 70-year-old tough love teacher with a strong German accent.
I hung up my toe shoes after junior high to join the high school Pom-Pom team performing at athletic half-times without any interest in the basketball or football games. In my 20s I transitioned to yoga and I’ve spent thousands of hours on my foamy pink mat ever since.
Shortly after selling the yoga studio in 2017, I treated myself to Christmas in Paris and got tickets to see Sleeping Beauty at Versailles. Tim and I sat on a charming red velvet bench on the upper level and watched the beauty unfold below. Mesmerized and jet-lagged, I spent the wee hours back in our Montmartre Airbnb googling adult ballet classes in DC.
Bleary-eyed, I screenshot the possibilities and landed on a Friday noon beginner class at The Washington Ballet. During the rest of my Paris adventures, I had visions of flowing across a studio floor in toe shoes.
When back to DC, I invited a friend to join me, slid into 20-year-old slippers, and tried to follow along in the entry level class. I flailed and fell a few steps behind for the entire 75-minutes and realized how little muscle memory remained—definitely not like riding a bike.
I continued taking a class or two weekly for 18 months and when they announced a Bootcamp that included a performance at the end of the weekend, I cleared my schedule and showed up with bells on both days. Although I was in over my head, I gave the 55-second performance from Giselle (I think) everything I had—hand flourish finale, big smile, and all.
The next few months my class-taking shifted back to mostly yoga since the studio was closer and felt more private than the bright lights and mirrors of the dance studio. Then the pandemic hit and when I found that a favorite ballet academy in NYC was doing online classes, I pulled out my ballet barre and became devoted. Daily classes have become the norm and I’ve also added a weekly private session with my favorite teacher—a Broadway choreographer who offers generous, constructive feedback and has a gentle demeanor.
In the past few weeks, to balance out all the ballet, I’ve added back one weekly yoga class to stretch and return to the familiarity of a practice my body knows well. Lately I’ve been drawn to ballet documentaries (Restless Creature and A Ballerina’s Tale) and books (Raising the Barre and Ballet for Life) with dreams of balancing on one foot, doing a solid pirouette, and slipping into shiny pink toe shoes (the ones in the image above are 30+years old).
Ballet challenges in a variety of ways—from balance to coordination to getting the body to remember the choreography. Some days I end class in tears, others I’m elated. It’s humbling.
As a child, you practice all year for that one recital and I find that mentality ingrained in me. I loved the performance with lights, tutus, crowns, and stage makeup and I love watching it now.
I don’t think it’s super common to take up ballet again in your mid-40s with dreams of getting en pointe and performing, but it’s keeping me motivated. While yoga is more about the practice with no ultimate goal beyond enlightenment (lofty!), ballet is a dream.
A dream of twirling on the stage, showcasing how hard you’ve worked, and having flowers thrown your way. Although this may only happen in the privacy of my own home with an audience of my four pets and partner, a girl can dream! Bisous x