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falling in love, and other memories

November 21, 2011

For better or worse, the body remembers.

Catch a whiff of drugstore perfume and you may suddenly find yourself, a nauseated fourteen year-old, peering into the body cavity of a fetal pig while your lab partner madly spritzes Lady Stetson to cover the formaldehyde stench.

Lean an inch too far starboard paddling your weekend canoe, and — whether its been two years or twenty since you’ve last swum a stroke — your lungs will remember when to expand and when to contract.

image by lola audu via flickr

I’m staggered when I consider the collective intelligence of cells, nerves, and muscles.  The miracle of memory arching from the nose, to the lungs, to the brain…  what beautiful machines we inhabit.

This weekend, though, I had one very important question for my particular machine:

“Will you remember one single thing from the twelve years you spent in ballet class?”

Let me back up for a moment.

So, if you knew me growing up, you understand that dance was a very important part of my childhood.  An exceptionally clumsy little kid, my family was surprised to find that I had both an affinity and an aptitude for ballet.  From the beginning, I loved it.  I loved my instructors, stern and beautiful with sleek topknots and dark lipstick.  I loved the ritual of legwarmers and rosin and lacing up pointe shoes.  I loved the predictable rhythm of lessons — barre, floor, adagio, applause.  I loved the iron-spined discipline of it all.

image by scillystuff via flickr

Like most girls, though, I had neither the talent nor the desire to be a professional dancer, so my ballet career ended in high school.  Any dancing I’ve done between then and now occurred at concerts or weddings, and employed none of the technique acquired from my previous training.  As much as I loved ballet, I believed it an art best practiced by four year-olds in tutus, moody teenaged girls, and professionals.  Thirty-something mothers of two?  Not so much.

So, when I ran past a dance studio in my new neighborhood a few weeks ago, I am not sure what compelled me to grab one of its schedules and stuff it in my pocket.  Later, finding the crumpled pink sheet, I noticed a class in bold letters: Ballet, Ages 16-Adult.  “It’s probably only offered at inconvenient times,” I sniffed, before realizing the class was available on Saturdays.  “I’m sure it’s expensive,” I muttered to myself, only to be greeted by the fine print at the bottom of the page: “Free trial class.”

Out of excuses, I had to go.

Before showing up for class, I reminded myself that I’d done little over the past twenty years to prepare myself for such an event; that, in fact, distance running — shortening and tightening the muscles as it does — had left me with a body ill-suited for ballet.  I prepared myself for the reality that I might not remember a battement from a sissonne, but that this class would be an experiment in maybe-chasing.  I reassured myself that it was okay to fail.  In so doing, I realized that what I really wanted was to fall in love with ballet again.

I think I did, too.

I mean, during barre work, my nose didn’t come anywhere near my knee, like it did when I was young.  I had to fight to maintain the alignment that came so naturally to my body twenty years ago.  Balancing in an arabesque?  Not pretty.  I fought dizziness doing chaînés across the floor.  The instructor, a freckled twenty four year-old in braids, was infinitely kinder and more patient than the dictatorial teachers of my youth, for which I was deeply grateful.

The magic of it all, though, bloomed in spite of my rusty legs and my spinning head.  It happened after our first series of plies, right at the beginning of class, and it strengthened throughout the hour.  My body and I remembered.  We knew where our arms were supposed to go, and we knew what the instructor was about to do before she did it.  All those years in all of those studios flowed through me like breath.  I was in love again.

Though I didn’t want the class to end, it did.  In the lobby of the dance studio I bumped into a mother from my son’s school.  Her kindergartener was there for ballet class, she said.  “Me, too,” I beamed, not the slightest bit embarrassed, as I walked out to my car.

I just love Ryan Adams’ new single, “Lucky Now.”  Because in it he wonders, “are we really who we used to be?” I post it below for your listening pleasure.

Today, I hope you remember who you were when you first fell in love.  Thank you — always — for showing up.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2011 8:43 am

    Beautifully said. I found your blog under “ballet” topic search. My daughter who is eleven has been in ballet for six years now. She is in rehersal this week for The Nutcracker. I guess I was looking for a post just like yours, so thank you. Now on to your question…

    I fell in love at the library…with the books. Living in a very small town, our library of course matched in size. Our librarian, a lovely woman who would greet me with a smile and then sensing my need to be alone would quietly sit at her desk. Thank you for the gentle reminder that I need to write about those early experiences.

    • November 23, 2011 5:36 pm

      thank you so much, and how wonderful to hear from you. how lucky that you were able to both find both the library and an adult who understood and responded to you so thoughtfully! best of luck to your daughter in her performance — I’m sure it will be magical. take care, anne

  2. November 24, 2011 10:46 am

    Thank you Anne. We are looking forward to a magical weekend.

  3. November 24, 2011 11:07 am

    LOVE this post. I can’t remember who I was when I first fell in love…and I’m kinda struggling to figure out who i am now. Perhaps remembering where I started is a good place. thanks for sharing such a beautiful story!

    • December 1, 2011 7:19 am

      I so appreciate your comment — thank you! For me, looking back has been a helpful guide to looking forward.

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