Ballet class was when, at the risk of sounding cliché, everything else kind of went away for a while. From age six to 17, I would don my leotard and tights and I would only think of pliés, and relevés, and the smell of rosin, and the feel of the barre under my hand and the five, six, seven, eight, ONE in time with the music. It was almost a hypnotized feeling because ballet is not something you can half-ass, even on purpose. Maybe it’s some kind of Spandex-soluble, Classical music transmitted energy or something, but the second you walk into that studio, you can’t help but turn into a dancing queen, young and sweet.
I didn’t get into any other type of dance besides ballet until my last year of taking classes, when I added jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop. By that point, I was taking classes six days a week, sometimes three in one night and I would have to use my hand to hold down the brake pedal on my way home from class because my legs were shaking so bad. I can’t remember what it was like before taking ballet classes and I can’t remember whose decision it was for me to initially start taking them, but I lived and breathed it until I surprised the hell out of myself my senior year or high school and decided I wanted to do sports that year instead of dance.
Not that dance isn’t a sport. Dance is hard. We’ve all seen, in a particularly extreme example, how ballet can affect one’s mind, as well as her feet, in Black Swan and I’ll tell you that at least the feet part is common. I can recall having five blisters on one foot before and my second-toe nails fell off so often that I don’t think I had a full set of nails all through high school (sorry if anybody is eating and reading right now.)
Every ballet position is a full-body position and requires the use of every muscle group. A plié might just look like a knee bend, but you’re actually working to keep your feet turned out, your calves are stretching, your thighs are straining to keep your knees over your feet, your hip flexors are keeping your butt from sticking out, your butt is supporting your lower back, which is lengthening to give your shoulder blades room to spread out, and your shoulder blades are being pulled together to keep your chest up and open and your shoulders and biceps are stretching your arms out to the side to maintain your balance while your neck is staying elongated to keep your head level and your face soft so you can show off this beautiful position and smile! And that’s just a 2-count position, if that.
An hour-long technique class is usually stuffed full of knee bends, calf raises, leg lifts, stretching and more stretching, fast-paced combinations, excruciatingly slow combinations, spins and leaps. It’s so much work and it’s so beautiful and worthwhile because of that, and vice versa.
I guess it’s the recent interest in ballet the world has shown since Black Swan, and the publication of this awesome book, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, that I desperately want for my birthday (which is next week, guys) but I’ve got some dance fever going on right now and I need to shake my booty or something. Where is your favorite place to take a dance class, Denver? I don’t care if it’s ballet or zumba or hip-hop. Just not tap. I. Suck. At. Tap. Keep me posted of your favorite places or share some dancin’ adventures!