Two Left Feet: Chapter I

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Over The Hill

These days it seems pointless to begin any sort of dance if you’re over the age of three-and-a-half. It’s way too easy to look like a fool next to those people who live and breathe the stuff. Trust me, I know. I’ve been the girl who can only awkwardly hunch forward to grab her ankle in the air, knee bent, while the prima ballerinas around me lift their legs gracefully to their ears. Now, my best dance moves involve mostly jogging in place, “woo”-ing and the occasional Grease throwback.

Still, a girl can dream — which I do all too willingly. I obsessively watch every Step Up film. Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, and Shall We Dance? are each perma-favorites in my household. A bored moment for me almost always means Googling “SYTYCD clips” (For the less dance-obsessed: “So You Think You Can Dance,” a reality dance television show). Yes, I took some dance classes back in college — how could I resist? But even then, the reality that I was too old to begin any real training always put a stop to whatever discipline might have developed on my part.

Now, that reality is even more blatant. At 26, I’m way too old to begin life as a “real” dancer, despite my sighs and daydreams. I suppose there are dance workout classes — Zumba and the like. Those can be fun, but I’ve got to be honest with you: they’re just not the same. The goal in those classes isn’t dance, it’s fitness. Fitness, of course, is great, but it’s not motivating for those who dream of dance for dancing’s sake. Technical dance, performance-based dance, “serious” dance — none of those are for people like me.

At least, that’s what most of us believe.

Meet Me At The Barre

Dance is an extremely esoteric art form. After all, it’s now inextricably connected to performing, which is intimidating all by itself. If I don’t excel at something, I certainly don’t want to perform. This is the reality which stops many people from pursuing dance. Classes like ballet, although considered the foundation of all dance, are taught by historically nasty teachers who weed out the thin-skinned and the sickle-footed. The competitive nature of the dance world, to put it simply, breeds exclusivity.

 If I don’t excel at something, I certainly don’t want to perform. This is the reality which stops many people from pursuing dance.

With ballet, if you’re not in it as a training-eight-hours-a-day lifestyle and career, you’re not really in it. Not to mention that, in our society at least, dance has somehow been sanctioned off as a strictly feminine activity — which I don’t understand at all. Watch Moose dance in Step Up II. He goes from super-nerd to super-hot in 1.3 seconds flat.

We seem to have forgotten that the creative movement of our bodies is the most ancient and cross-cultural form of expression. We seem to have forgotten that it doesn’t have to be connected to performing. The skills you develop in these performance-based dance classes are deeply beneficial far outside of the realms of any stage. Heart health, strength, flexibility, endurance, and coordination are lauded as physical benefits.

Mentally, dance has been shown to increase memory and intelligence. In fact, one Stanford study found dance to be the single best way to prevent dementia, even compared to more cognitive activities like reading or doing puzzles. The varied nature of dance helps to develop neural pathways, which increase mental sharpness, memory, and decision-making.

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It makes sense, doesn’t it? Our bodies were made to move and to connect with our mind. They are supposed to be our greatest tool. But our culture teaches us to treat our bodies like a product we must create, not a partner we can work with. Could dance, perhaps, reconnect that?

Our bodies were made to move and to connect with our mind.

Even if it could, how would a modern, untrained adult be able to get involved with dance today? Is it possible to pursue a life of dance for dance’s sake, not for a career or a performance? How would it affect one’s life, emotions, and overall health? Is it a reasonable way to reconnect the body and the brain? Is it manageable, or even possible, for the average person with a family and job, who is decidedly not a prima ballerina?

That’s what I’m going to find out.

The Beginning of An Adventure

My plan is to spend a year diving into dance. I’ll take three classes a week, in addition to strength and cardio training, with the goal of becoming the best non-professional dancer I can. I’ll chronicle for you on a monthly basis my experience, how I manage it, and how it’s affecting the rest of my life and person. My goal will not be to perform, although that doesn’t mean I never will. Rather, my goal will be to reconnect with my body through dance. To explore, experiment, and experience how dance might benefit the rest of my life — to treat it as its own reward and report back whether it measures up as such.

My only skill is a certain foolhardy gusto which has granted me the ability to do silly things with minimal embarrassment (because, let’s face it, the fear of embarrassment keeps many of us away from dance). I also have enough of a base knowledge of dance (thanks in part to my daydreams) to know where to begin.

It might be a delusion. We’ll see. But until I prove myself wrong, I refuse to believe that technical dance is reserved only for the perfect-footed, naturally rhythmic, or trained-from-birth. I refuse to continue in a lifestyle in which I train my body to be a certain product, instead of building its skills as my partner. I want my body to think with my brain. I want my body to be strong, capable—to be mine.

But most of all, I want to dance along with Moose in that final scene of Step Up II.  A girl can dream, right?

 Stay tuned for Chapter 2 of Two Left Feet, coming soon.

Images via Mallory Morrison for Darling Issue No.3

Heather is an actress, writer, and blogger who rants and writes about the creative process on her website. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Thomas, and sassy pup Rue.

9 COMMENTS
  • Nadya February 21, 2015

    I love your story. I too started late in life dancing ballet at the age of 45. I danced only once a week here and there. Then last year I decided to push past the ego and perform in a performance. Talk about humbling oneself. This year I am taking 3 days a week and I am performing in Sleeping Beauty. Its hard to be one of the oldest in an advanced class with all the young beautiful ballet dancers. So at your young age you will do great!! looking forward to reading the rest of your journey.

  • Alison December 30, 2014

    Bravo and good luck on your journey! I started dance late in life. At 19 yrs old I exclaimed, “I am going to be a ballerina.” At 5’6″ 180+lbs people thought I was crazy. I was very weak as I had put on ~80lbs in a about year-year and a half recovering from anorexia, my nightmare come true; and it was not muscle. ^^ But I began exercising, eventually taking beginning ballet twice a week. By the time I was 22yr old I was ~140lbs and ready to get serious. I even minored in dance at UC Berkeley although I had roughly the units to major. Even now when I start a new dance class teachers get very excited. They see my training and want me to stick around, maybe even join their company if I ever had the time. However, I am now a 31yr old med student, so I don’t have the time. But my point is, consistency is key. Whether you take 1 class a week or 2 classes a month or 6 classes a week, you will improve and you will grow to love and know your body. I would have never been one of those lucky few that recovered from a severe eating disorder and other -ish if I hadn’t dared to dance. Never stop dancing; never stop moving; and you’ll never stop living.

    • Alison December 30, 2014

      Also kudos on mentioning the Stanford study. It’s one of my faves. ^^

  • Abbie Driscoll October 27, 2014

    Yes yes yes! Amen, I love this! I am so excited for this adventure for you, Heather. I danced for a long time and loved it, but quit towards the end of high school because I came to think it was selfish and somehow an irresponsible use of so much time. Now that I am a little bit older, I have been exploring the idea that maybe I was way wrong in thinking those things. It is SUCH a wonderful exercise for your body, your mind, your spirit, and has so many therapeutic benefits. But I can totally relate to what you are saying about feeling too old or out of shape for it! I am very excited to keep reading 🙂

  • Hannah B. October 22, 2014

    I just started dancing seriously again at the “too old” age of 26 and this article was like reading an excerpt from my diary! Even though I’m technically behind many of my peers, I have ZERO regrets about jumping in again. Dance is about passion and self expression and freedom– things we are never too old for! (I’d even argue that we need them in our lives MORE the older we get!) Thank you for this beautiful article. Get it girl!

  • Mary Grace October 22, 2014

    This is so inspiring. I love how you pointed out that perhaps the value of acquiring a skill is not determined by whether or not you’re the best, or where you’ll pursue it more seriously, or whatever. Rather, the value is in the perseverance and dedication it took to develop that skill. The goal of the adventure is the adventure itself.

    Your words were so encouraging to me, as one who loves dance. You’ve inspired me to work harder at dance, not for the sake of being the prima ballerina or the most successful, but because it’s beautiful, valuable and something I love.

    Excited to hear the rest of the story!
    Mary Grace

  • Molly October 18, 2014

    I took ballet in college as a way of getting out of something more strenuous… and that was a wake up. Already quite thin, I built muscle and got so flexible I still remember being able to touch my knee to my ear while standing at barre. It’s nothing I ever wanted to pursue but for three days a week I was able to block out the rest of the world and challenge myself. I can’t wait to read more of your experience – it’s truly inspiring!

  • Molly October 16, 2014

    This is beautiful. I can definitely relate to the feeling of wanting to dance but feeling hopelessly behind those who have been doing it all of their lives. Thank you so much for sharing your journey – I look forward to being inspired by the chapters to come.

  • Rose October 15, 2014

    I really like this idea! And I’m looking forward to hearing about it. I started swing dancing last spring, and it added so much vitality to my life. I understand the dilemma in dance that you mentioned; showing up to learn with the die-hards, and the opposite: learning to exercise instead of really dancing. It sounds like you’ve found a happy medium and I’m glad!
    Rose

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