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.
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.