Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Ballet?

As explained in my previous blog post, I am translating back into English some essays I originally wrote many years ago for a Spanish class. Before the sheets of paper on which these short essays were written go into the recycle bin, I've decided to recover the ideas from the dust of my rusty Spanish. My Spanish-class essay is followed by current reflections.

Why Ballet?
Some people are surprised when they find out I still take weekly ballet classes. They don't understand why a woman my age would study ballet. But I am not alone. Many adults like dance, particularly ballet, because it is a form of exercise that is good for the body, the mind, and the soul. 
In ballet, one learns correct posture for standing, walking, and running like a dancer. The barre exercises are necessary for stretching and toning one's muscles. Ballet dancers use muscles that runners, for example, don't even know they have. But the muscles do not suffer terribly because the movements are slow and deliberate in preparation for quicker, more demanding moves. 
Each movement corresponds to music (played live, if we're lucky), usually classical piano, but sometimes we dance to the songs of Cole Porter, or even Patsy Cline. The ballet student must listen carefully to both the music and to the instructor. If the dancer is going to understand the movements, it is necessary to concentrate. It is not possible to follow the music if the mind is preoccupied.... Sometimes the dancer must follow a repeated pattern of four steps in each direction: four front, four side, four back, four side. But other times, the teacher choreographs many variations; each instructor has her favorite sets of steps, some of them quite complex. The ballet student must think only about the dance, otherwise she will miss the pattern. During ballet class is not the time for thinking about other things. 
Because the mind and body are occupied in a healthy way, the soul is also fed. Together, the music, the movement, the balance and the elegance are all spiritual as well as physical. The complete experience is an inspiration. Where else can one spin and leap with complete abandon? In the library? In the middle of the grocery store? Of course not! But in ballet class, the soul is permitted to express itself. When the class begins, the dancer may be tense, but at the end of the hour, there is peace. 
Ballet is a deceptive art. Good ballet dancers make it look so easy, and the traditional costumes seem like something out of the past. But in reality, ballet is contemporary and challenging. Finally, whoever has the patience and the discipline (and the money, unfortunately) to take classes is rewarded with satisfaction for the body, mind, and soul.
My mother first sent me to dance classes to correct my gait when I was a pigeon-toed toddler. She enrolled me first in tap dancing classes, probably because she thought that with my mop of curly hair I had a chance to rival child-star Shirley Temple. But I didn't like tap (probably wasn't very good at it). Instead, I preferred ballet, and it remained part of my life through my early teens, and then sporadically as an adult. During grad school, ballet gave me one precious hour a week to focus on balance, to stand with a strong spine, and to move gracefully through space without thinking about anything but the dance. About 5 years ago,one of my teaching colleagues introduced me to a new adult ballet class that I had begun attending regularly when my mother died after a long illness. I missed a couple of classes during the immediate aftermath of losing her, and kept telling myself I would return to the studio. But I never have. I became the one asking, "why ballet?"

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