24 December 2010

"At the still point, there the dance is"

It is Friday again and I am not taking a ballet class. The studio closed early for Christmas Eve, but I didn’t even think to check until seven, when class is at 7:30 and I’d need to be on a train by then to get to Midtown in time.

When I took class last week, it was a nostalgic whim. I needed to cheer myself up, and I love the feeling of inhabiting my body that I get from physical exertion. That’s why I like the gym so much. Sure, I sometimes slack off for a few days, but I don’t think of it as a torturous chore, the price I pay to fit into the jeans I do (which is none of them, anyway, since I’m too short to wear pants off the rack and too impatient to shop until I find a brand that works for me). Exercising diminishes my anxiety, and considering that once I spent a year hiding in my apartment, afraid to run errands in my neighbourhood and utterly unable to attend school—as I alluded to in my first post, there’s a reason I’m on leave—that’s certainly a good thing.

However, this is not a paean to the effects of sweat on my mental health. This is about a decision I need to make: do I want to be a dancer again?

I don’t have the background that most dancers do, since I didn’t sew my first shoes until I was fourteen. Despite the extraordinarily late start, I danced four or five times a week from then until I moved to Montréal, where I kept meaning to join a studio but never quite got around to it. In winter term my first year, when I took ballet once a week at the gym—I recall telling myself it was just “to stay in practice until I find a studio”—I approached it recreationally. My attendance was erratic. I actually missed the last class, probably because of the guy I was dating at the time.

Gradually, then suddenly, it occurred to me that I wasn’t a dancer anymore, and I didn’t really care.

The years I spent in class were just a breezy “I used to” when men in bars asked if I danced, a pile of neatly folded pink tights at the back of my sock drawer, and a lingering lower back injury. Until I joined the gym last winter, I had forgotten all about endorphin rushes and the way it feels to collapse, muscles satisfyingly sore, onto a soft piece of furniture. When I got home from class last week, it was very much like getting home from the gym; first I sprawled out on the couch and drank a glass of water, then I cooked something.

But a studio isn’t like a gym. There’s no such thing as a recreational ballerina. If I want to keep taking class, going once a week won’t be enough, especially because the technical weaknesses I had as a teenager are still there, now coated liberally with rust. And although I’m slim and flexible for an ordinary person, I don’t, on a fundamental level, have a ballet body. And I, still unemployed, already pay for memberships to my gym and my dojo. When I math it out, the cons outweigh the joy I get from dancing.

Not going back is the rational, adult decision, and I’m definitely happy I’m in a place where I can think clearly. Still, I rediscovered something I loved last week, something that links me to an earlier time in my life, and I’m a little disappointed to be letting it go so easily.

(Title quoted from T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton.")

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