“Remember, ladies, you’re not people-people,” Miss A said. “You’re birds. Swan queens.”

I nuzzled my arm, er, wing, and tried to look regal while bending back, ready to attack the first steps of the White Swan variation at Studio E.

Miss A came over to correct my arms. They weren’t broken enough. Right arm up, elbow bent, palm facing away to the right. Left arm in a low 1st, wrist flicked outwards. “Now use your upper body more.” I leaned to the right. This was harder than I thought. “No, don’t tilt your head. Look under, as if you’re hiding. You’re a bit frightened, but also a bit thoughtful.” I mimicked the pose, threw myself into those side developpés. “Don’t plié relevé into them, step with a straight leg.”

I looked at the mirror and saw a sweaty, red-faced (s)wannabe wearing a giraffe-print wrap skirt in a failed attempt to look longer and leaner.

What was I doing there? There are rare moments when, frustrated by an unfamiliar step in class or by the lack of brain-body coordination, I wonder why I, a 32-year-old woman who’s more or less competent at other things in life, am even doing this. I’ll never have to squeeze myself into a tutu and perform this solo onstage. Now, the 14-year-old girl with the slender arms at the workshop — SHE I could picture as Odette in several years.

So many things work against us adult beginners and re-beginners — lack of time or resources, slower ability to pick up choreography, years of bad habits (hunching over a computer and constantly sitting in my hips have written their effect on my body), baffled looks of co-workers when you mention having dance class later that night (“Oh, really? That’s…nice.”). The biggest battle is with self-doubt: What makes you think you can do this? Will anyone notice if you slink to the back of the room where others who think themselves “unworthy” are hiding? Are your teachers shaking their heads and ruing their decision to teach adults who are making a mockery of their life’s work? What’s the point?

But then the music starts again and the notes waft up, lifting our spirits and imaginary wings. The point is this — being present, inhabiting the moment, relishing our bodies’ ability to move and float on the currents of lovely music. We’re recreational dancers, not pros (who surely have their own insecurities to deal with), for a reason. It’s not just for fun — the point is re-creation, reinvention, transforming into better, more graceful versions of ourselves.

“That’s beautiful,” Miss A beamed as we ran to the corner while beating our wings and looking up. Even when our lame duck turns (is there a ballet step more appropriately named?) down the diagonal looked more lame (and blind, for that matter — have I mentioned I’m a terrible spotter?) than swan-like, we were finally enjoying ourselves. In life, we may go through the motions, do things out of duty, stay earthbound. In ballet class, we don’t just wing it. We are free. We take flight.

P.S. I actually really do love this black-and-white giraffe print skirt I got on Etsy from DemiSkirts.

Giraffe skirt for a swan queen

I’m also really happy Studio E even decided to hold the White Swan workshop. So far it’s the only studio in Toronto that offers classical ballet variations workshops to adults and non-professionals. I had a lot of fun learning the simplified Sugar Plum Fairy solo last Christmas. Crossing my fingers that there’ll be more this year.


2 thoughts on “(S)wannabe

  1. Ohh man I can’t spot to save my life.. hate it! But how awesome is it that you’re doing Swan Lake?! I’d die to do a classic like that! We only get newly designed pieces, no variations.. Sometimes that’s fun but other times I just wish our teacher would just go all Swan Lake on our asses! 😉

  2. I know — it really was a thrill to learn such a classic piece, even if we got a simplified version (straight to side developpes instead of doing ronde de jambes en l’air first). Re: spotting, I’m what one teacher calls a “slow” spotter — my eyes wander, “taking in the scenery” (his words!) instead of focusing, haha. Maybe if you request a Swan Lake session (cue image: herd of stampeding ballerinas) your teacher will give in? 😉

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