An Instrument to Paint the Poetry of Music

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Ballerina A. Danilova. (This image is in the public domain).

 Every ballet studio should hang this sign on its door: “Leave yourself here. Henceforth thou art an instrument of the poetry of music”.

The Beginner Ballet Class Drama, Act 1

We’re roughly half way into class. “Take a break, put the barres away,” the instructor says. While most dancers move to the front of the class, I feel fear slowly trickling into my stomach. This is a beginner class, this is a beginner class, I keep telling myself. It says BEGINNER on the freakin’ schedule. So I’m going to be fine. But I don’t feel fine. We start with a bourree on the diagonal and then a wide lunge in fourth. “Pirouette en dedans,” Monsiuer Ballet proclaims. Wham! I almost do a faceplant. Monsieur chooses to let me bear my shame in silence and looks away. The same thing again. I almost hit the floor. By this time, all I want to do is limp to the back of the studio and disappear quietly though the door.

I somehow make it to the side and plant myself on the window sill fighting tears. A few very nice people come and ask me if I’m okay. I lie. I say I feel dizzy, my head hurts, but what’s more hurt is my pride. After the reverence, I run through the door as fast as I can.

I spend the entire week debating whether I am ever going to ballet class again. Must go to ballet class, must go to ballet class, I repeat over and over and over, but the fear is already there. It’s a bit like falling off a horse and not getting back immediately. I fell off a horse during riding class once, and instead of getting on, I lay in the dirt and cried. And while I lay sobbing on the ground, a quiet silent fear sowed its seeds. It was the same, silent fear that took hold of me after the epic pirouette fail. I still went to class the following week, but after the barre I ran away. No more pirouettes, no more across the floor, no more almost falls and no more Monsieur Ballet gracefully looking away to avoid seeing my insulting incompetence.

The following week. It’s almost the I-have-to-start-packing-if –I-want-to-go-to-ballet-class-time, and I sit at my desk and stare outside. I look at the clock. I watch as the minute handle slides forward. I’m waiting for it to hit ten to twelve. Now, I’ve missed the train. I’m not going to class.  I spend the next week simmering in the stew of fear. “I’ll fall again.” “I won’t be able to get my leg higher than 45 degrees”.  “I look like a fat sausage stuffed into a leotard”.

Until, I realize.

Ballet is not about me.

It is not about  my personality, my dreams, hopes and achievements. True, I may have dreams, hopes, fears. True, when I go to sleep, for a moment I let myself imagine what it would be like to dance on the stage of Bolshoi or at the Lincoln Center, being beautiful, light, elegant.  True, I feel bitter about not having the chance to start ballet earlier.

But when I go to ballet class, I have to leave all of that at the door. Because ballet class is not about my fears, my hopes and my dreams. It’s about training me as an instrument of dance. An instrument to paint the poetry of music.

Not all instruments are made equal.  Schubert’s Serenade sounds different when played on a 50 000 $ Steinway & Son than on a cheap electric piano. And the electric piano will never be a Steinway & Son, no matter how hard it tries, how well it’s cleaned and polished.  But a dedicated pianist can make even the little plastic thing sound pretty decent.

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