While I was growing up and to this day, my dad has called me "Grace." I've never been sure whether he is referring to the meaning of my given name or making a crack about my general clutziness. I think he likes the ambiguity.
My mother has told me that when I was in ballet class with all the other three year olds, the instructor recommended that I see the podiatrist because there was "something wrong" with my feet. My parents took me to the doctor, and, as the story goes, he laughed and said that I would never be good for ballet, but ballet would be good for me.
In elementary school I envied the girls who could turn cartwheels. I asked my mom to put me in a gymnastics class at the Y, but I never got beyond the forward somersault. (Wait, does that sound like anything requiring talent? It's the one where you squat, then tuck your head in and roll forward.) I was a big gymnastics failure. Also, I'm not flexible.
I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was in fourth or fifth grade.
As I got older, I move on to feeling awkward and self conscious at school dances. It wasn't just that I knew I moved dorkily, but also that the idea of "expressing myself through movement" seemed terribly embarrassing. The only thing that made dances tolerable was when a kind friend would take me aside and teach me the precise movements of the classic "step-touch-step-touch" dance. As long as I could do the move and there was no room for anyone to mistakenly think I was "into" the music or that I thought I was cool, I was safe.
But I've still always admired dancers and people who are nimble and have good spacial awareness and all that. So in college I took up ballroom dancing and sort of found my niche. Because, just like in junior high and high school, in ballroom I could learn the precise steps. (Swing still evades me because there is so much improvisation.) Although learning the steps took me a very very long time, once I could do them I could do them just fine and have fun and enjoy the music and feel, well, not so lumpen. But I don't do that anymore; I tired of having my peer group be exclusively old people and social inepts.
As an adult, strangers have inquired more than once if I was a dancer, which I can attribute only to my long neck and propensity to wear sweatsuits in public - but I find the question incredibly flattering.
I still have two left feet; I trip over my own toes just walking along the sidewalk.
But a couple of weeks ago I was inundated with dancery. I was Facebook-bullied into watching SYTYCD; Ace and I saw Fred and Ginger in Top Hat; I watched Center Stage and Stick It in one lazy afternoon. And I decided I'd still like to Be A Dancer.
So I've investigated the neighborhood offerings, and there isn't a lot in the way of adult beginning dancing instruction. (Although to be honest, I wouldn't mind lining up at the barre with the four year olds - I think it's the parents who would object.) There's a "Beginning Jazz Dance" class at the community center, and a "Beginning Ballet" at a ballet school near me.
This Tuesday I went to jazz dance. A friendly student introduced me to the teacher, who was very welcoming. I asked if the class was truly for beginners and warned her that I knew nothing and had no natural aptitude. She said students weren't expected to know anything, and it would be a perfect fit.
I creaked through the warm up, approximated the stretching, and stumbled through the routine. It was terrible. I don't mind being bad; it didn't bother me that I was the worst. I already know this is something I'm not good at, and I recognize how counterproductive pride can be (I wish I'd discovered that one sooner in life). But the chasm between me and the rest of the other "beginner" students was so vast, I felt like I was in the way. A lumbering elephant among flamingos.
At one point we were supposed to pirouette across the floor in three lines - no hiding in the back - and I couldn't even turn in one of the directions and just walked across the floor like a big, dejected loser. The teacher didn't even bother to adjust me during any of the techniquey bits, and I know it was a kindness. She talked to the class about how it wasn't all about getting the precise steps but was about showing emotion (the music was an 'introspective piece,' so we weren't supposed to be checking the mirror or one another), and looked right at me - but as we know, that self-consciousness isn't going anywhere if I know I'm screwing up the basics. By the end I was near tears and extremely frustrated.
The friendly student, a guy named Chris, told me afterwards that he totally got my situation, that he had come to dancing "late in life" and comisserated about the lack of true beginner options for grownups. He said he was in my boat a few years ago, but just threw himself into a million different classes. I remembered how I cried frustrated tears in my first spinning class many years ago, and how far I've come since then.
So this weekend I'm going to try the beginning ballet class.