Tag Archives: Bellydance

Beginning Ballet

by Kate

Two weeks ago, on my 32nd birthday, I took my first ballet class. As I wrote in this post , I didn’t begin dancing until my mid 20’s. After my mother informed me that it was not too late to become a dancer at 23, I took the plunge and enrolled in an 8 week session… of salsarobics. It seemed like a non-threatening soft entry in the dance world, and it was. I convinced my friend Rebecca to join me. The first step was to tiptoe into an intimidating dance store full of tutus and buy leotards- entirely unnecessary, but deeply satisfying. Rebecca and I have always believed in the power of costuming. We put our hair in buns, applied eye liner, and strutted into salsarobics like we were seasoned professional dancers. We were not, but the power of our belief did convince our salsa instructor that we were former ballerinas.

The next class was a disastrous flirtation with tango. At six feet I towered over my partners and felt like a clumsy oaf. At one class, I insisted on wearing oversized scuffed cracked leather cowboy boots. The leather bottoms were worn smooth, and I slipped and fell, pulling my partner on top of me. I never returned.

A year or two later I stumbled into the world of bellydance, and never left. Bellydance is full of adult beginners- people who have never taken a dance class in their lives. The bellydance community tends to be warm, welcoming, and supportive. It is also a bit of a wild west situation, dancewise. American bellydance brings together a wide variety of dance forms from the Middle East, Africa, India, and Polynesia, as well as balletic influences via Russians who spent time in the Middle East. There are tribal dancers and cabaret dancers, spangles and sequins and feathers and leather, troupes and soloists and fusion artists incorporating hip hop, Asian, modern, vaudeville, and circus influences. There are incredible teachers steeped in history and knowledge, and there are people teaching who have taken less than six months of classes themselves. The bellydance world is vibrant, open, and rich, but it is very much in the process of becoming a codified dance form. In many ways, it is pretty much the opposite of ballet.

 Over the past several years, I have taken several bellydance classes a week whenever possible. I’ve dabbled in african dance, hip hop, afrocuban, and even lurched and rolled through a few unforgettable modern classes. After years of serious study, I teach bellydance classes and love doing it. I dance in a Turkish restaurant and recently performed a solo set on the main stage at a huge downtown benefit for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. What I hadn’t done was take a single ballet class.

In a strange sort of way, not having taken ballet made me feel like I wasn’t a “real” dancer. Often when I tell people I do bellydance, they think I am saying ballet dance. Their eyes light up and they nod, envisioning white tights and pointe shoes, and then I clarify and their eyebrows raise up and their head bobs and they sort of sputter a bit, at a loss for words. I have also meet a surprising number of people who have a hard time believing that you can be A Dancer if you didn’t start at the age of 4, in a tiny tutu. I think I even have a hard time believing it myself now and then.

And so, at the age of 32, I put on my leotard (yes, the one from the salsarobics class! It finally came in handy!) and headed to an Intro to Ballet class at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The PBT school is ten minutes from my house, located  in one of  the warehouses along the Strip District, near the yoga studio I wrote about in this post. According to their website, the PBT school is recognized as “one of the nation’s finest” for dance education and training. I don’t know whether to be grateful, amused, or embarrassed about that fact when I walk into the cavernous studios with acres of barre, walls of mirrors, and a harried piano player staggering in with 40 lbs of sheet music in her bag.

Intro to Ballet is a bit of a misleading title for the class that I took. I suppose that “Re-Introduction to Ballet for former ballet dancers who spent their entire childhood in tights and then went to college and got married and had children and now have enough time and money to take ballet classes again, as well as various student dancers who weren’t able to make it to the Advanced Class” wouldn’t have been as catchy. The class immediately assumed position at the barre and began piques, or something to that effect, and many other french terms for delineated movements as familiar as breathing to the former and current ballerinas behind me. I loved watching dancers of all ages, from young teens to women in their 60’s, gracefully and joyfully moving, borne aloft by the spirited accompanist- who actually seemed a bit furious about something, which added to the vim and vigor of her playing.

 In the corner of  the room, a dancer was lost in a world of her own. The quality of her movement was entirely different than anything I have ever seen. She looked exactly like a swan in the midst of a flock of chickens, gliding nobly through the water with her head held high as we squabbled in the dust. I found out later that she is a soloist for the Pittsburgh Ballet- the soloist I have seen for years on huge billboards advertising the ballet. It was obvious that this woman was completely at home in the studio, and completely immersed in the practice of constantly refining and perfecting her dancing. Although her carriage was the proudest I have ever seen, there was a humility in her approach to dancing- a willingness to completely commit herself to a basic combination, at a beginner class, over and over again.

This week I will attend the real beginner’s class, where they define movements and terms for those of us who missed that class when we were four. I hope that my years of dancing have taught me grace and humility. I know that they have taught me to let go and laugh while attempting to leap across the floor, to bend my body in a manner that is more supple and to let go of my pride so I can bend some more.  I have also learned that it is can be beneficial to begin at the beginning, over and over again.

Dancing with my baby.

Kate

I thought that I would have to stop dancing after I had children. I didn’t begin dancing seriously till my mid twenties, after my mother told me to stop bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have dance lessons as a child and just take some classes. She grew up on a farm too, she told me, and she didn’t start dancing till college. I remember watching her point her toes and stretch on the living room floor in the midst of children, and I used to play dress up with her old ballet slippers and Spanish gypsy costumes as a little girl. I was fascinated by her stories of dancing Wade in the Water in a long white dress with a parasol in a modern dance production directed by a seminarian inspired by the Alvin Ailey company.

Realizing that my mom didn’t begin dancing till college helped inspire me to begin dancing at the advanced age of 26. On the other hand, it was clear to me as the oldest of nine kids on a ridgetop far from town that dance class was not going to be a part of my mom’s life again any time soon. She was completely at peace with that fact, and I know that the dance and theatre and basketball and teaching she did before getting married helped make her so joyful and at peace with her vocation as a mother. I assumed that my life would follow the same pattern in a way- I would have my adventures, then begin the adventure of married life and children, without dance class.

I took as many dance classes as I could in the years before I married, trying to learn as much as possible before I had to stop. After moving to Pittsburgh as a newlywed newly pregnant and newly exhausted bride, my husband pushed me to get up off the couch where I was lying in a crumpled heap of self pity and just take a dance class. I returned from class with a renewed level of energy, hope, and joyfulness. Going to class every week helped me settle into this city, into my body, into my marriage.

Just as I was surprised to find myself living in a city, I was surprised to find myself dancing more after becoming a wife and mother. I began teaching in my second trimester, and taught till two weeks before Olympia was born. There is a Turkish restaurant and performance space down the hill and around the corner five minutes from my house, where I have been able to work with incredible women teaching, studying, and performing bellydance. I am so grateful to be involved in a dance community that welcomes and supports women as mothers.

I have begun to realize that we all have different paths, and that right now it is possible for me to be a mother and a wife and a dancer. We’ll see what happens if I have nine kids, but I’m not moving to the farm any time soon. In the meantime I’ll be at dance class, half the time crossing the floor with a baby in my arms.