Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I Dance

I started learning to dance about two months ago. Not just any type of dance, mind you. I started to dance ballet—and I really enjoy it. It's been one of the most positive steps I've taken in recent years and I don't regret it despite the raised eyebrows and quizzical-critical comments I receive at times.

Why dance? And why ballet in particular?

Part of the answer is quite simple. I have realized that I am not getting any younger and that I need to consciously choose to remain active. I want to maintain my health at a level where I can continue to live a full life well into my later years. Given that my work has me sitting in front of a computer most of the day, I particularly need physical activity. I started running last fall and still run on occasion, but it has not become something I truly enjoy doing. Those pleasure-inducing endorphins or whatever it is that some runners experience have so far eluded me. I run because I know I need to, not because I enjoy it. More recently I tried doing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with my wife and son. We undertook this primarily to get our son involved in physical activity and to help him learn discipline, but for various reasons it didn't work out as well as we had hoped. I also struggled to reconcile my increasingly non-violent mindset with an activity that involves punching, hitting and kicking things (and people). Nor did I feel at home in the often testosterone-heave environment of the dojo. (Although I respect the owner of the dojo for his perspective and attitude.) So that fell by the wayside. I could have picked up yoga or pilates, but when I saw the sign outside the studio advertising ballet, I began to think that it might be fun to try something completely new.

The Semperoper Ballet, Dresden

Dancing ballet takes me way outside of my comfort zone. When I first considered joining the class I called the studio to inquire about it and the ballet teacher answered the phone. Her warm, positive encouragement was precisely what I needed to take the first step. Her continued encouragement and the welcoming atmosphere of the class helped me choose to continue. I am not by nature a big risk-taker. I don't like to put myself in positions where I feel awkward or uncomfortable. I don't like to try new things if I doubt my ability to succeed. I am not the most gifted person in the realm of physical coordination and strength, so undertaking something that requires both was a particularly bold move. However, in the past couple years I have put aside much of my innate hesitation and the fear that keeps me from expressing myself. Although not entirely free from such constraints, I don't worry as much as I used to about what others might think of me. This, combined with the positive support of my excellent teachers (I've now had a couple, both of them very good and very supportive), encouraged me to take this bold step.

Many guys give ballet a wide berth because they perceive it as an activity for girls and women. This didn't hinder me, because although it is a reality that more women dance ballet than men, men do are in fact an integral part of the ballet world. Nor do I pay much heed to traditional prescribed gender roles. Rather than causing me to hesitate about ballet, the fact that it crossed gender role boundaries—at least in the minds of many people—motivated me to do it. I'm not uncomfortable practicing with the women in the class. Nor am I bothered in the least to have women teaching. In fact I love the teachers I have—both of them great dancers and fantastic teachers. They and my fellow students have been a very welcoming, affirming community and I appreciate that very much.
This is definitely NOT me, although she is very beautifully posed.
(c) Suzanne Gonzalez

I dance ballet because I think it is an amazingly beautiful, graceful form of artistic expression. I would not have always said this. In the early years of our marriage my wife and I went to the ballet (The Nutcracker, I seem to recall) in Seattle and I was, quite honestly, rather bored by it. Later, while living in Russia, we had the opportunity to see several ballets at the world-famous Mariinskiy Theater in St. Petersburg. There I experienced the full power and beauty of ballet at its finest and I fell in love with it, although at the time I still would not have imagined myself trying to dance. I love the way that ballet combines beauty with control to powerfully express emotion. I am naturally quite reserved. I don't display emotional readily nor abundantly. I want to change this. I want to learn to express emotion more freely and ballet offers an avenue to do so, an avenue that combines this expression with beauty and grace.

I think I look more like this when dancing.
Actually, the hippo is probably better than I am,
but I'm learning!
I didn't know what to expect when I began ballet lessons. I certainly felt awkward and lacked confidence. I'm still pretty awkward, but I look forward to my lessons. They are very challenging and provide an incredible physical workout. At the same time they allow me to open up and express myself, releasing energy and emotion that are trapped inside. My current teacher Magda is particularly good at drawing us out, moving beyond simply learning the forms and positions to expressing ourselves through our movements. Sometimes I feel frustrated by my clumsiness or my inability to flex and stretch as much as I would like. But ballet has proven to be an excellent fit for me, a combination of physical activity with creative expression of beauty and grace that lifts my mind and body and refreshes me. I only wish I'd discovered it sooner.