Three decades stand between me and a little wish I’d had a child.
For most little girls, ballet tutus hold an inescapable allure, swishing like a soft summer breeze over long grass, impossibly layered mille-feuille, delicate and delicious.
I wanted one.
And the leotard, and the tights, and the little pink slippers. I suppose if I were to dig below the surface, I also longed for both the spotlight and the validation of appearing as gracefully weightless as the tutu itself.
I had it all, for a fleeting moment. As a preschooler, I attended a pre-ballet dance class in the basement of a church. I wore a silky white ribbon around my waist, while the “older” girls–kindergartners–wore identical ribbons, but theirs secured miniature tutus around their tiny five-year-old midsections. I begged to continue with ballet but eventually found myself on swim and softball teams.
I never gave up my dream of dance. The forest beyond our backyard became my woodland stage. Leaping about in secret, I metamorphosed into Sugar Plum Fairy, nymph or sprite, as delicate and sparkling as a drop of dew upon a leaf, as radiant and welcome as sunlight through a lush canopy. My play-clothes were transformed in my imagination to an intricate tangle of sequins and flowers, my body a lithe sapling hoisted easily for aerial arabesques. I would hum the Nutcracker Suite, Flight of the Bumblebee, or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
In fifth grade my best friend, a tall willowy girl, began to study ballet in earnest. I drew up a rather official-looking agreement and attendance record and urged her to sign. After her Saturday ballet class, we would meet at her house and she would teach me everything she’d learned in class that day. I was a demanding student, wringing from her more knowledge and experience than she had at her disposal. The agreement lasted only one afternoon.
In sixth grade, a woman’s body replaced the potato shaped pre-teen form I’d hidden under sweats. I shuddered at the very thought of any public appearance in a leotard and gave up the dream of ever attending ballet class.
In my bed concealed by sheets and blankets, I laid on my back, pointing my toes as hard as I could, touching the tips to the mattress, contracting my leg muscles, “turning out” at the hip flexor. When out of sight of others, I’d tip-toe as softly as possible, toes pointed out, ankles up to increase foot strength, holding my hands as though tiny butterfly wings. I wanted to be ready.
In college, a beginning ballet class beckoned me from the course catalog. For a moment I glimpsed the possibility of touring with a dance troupe with seasoned dancers. But who begins learning ballet at 19, I contended.
I declined to allow myself the pleasure of merely learning.
Nearly 20 years later, I’m committing more time to caring for myself now that my two children are both in school. So I signed up for a beginning ballet class. After all, I’m finally writing my first novel, a long-held dream that won’t let go until I’ve met my goal. Why not dance as well?
That first class reduced me to my five-year-old self. Inside my chest, a small fire lit, and I happily moved my feet from position to position as though I were back in the woods behind my home. I gladly flexed onto tiptoes and plied with gratitude. I can do this, I whispered to myself.
After class, the instructor asked me again, “Certainly you’ve had dance experience. As a child, perhaps?”
Flushed with endorphins and giddy disbelief, hope is renewed in me.
Passion is always present, available, and laughs at age, the most irrelevant variable. Having begun at last to dance has awakened in me both confidence and curiosity to try other things for the first time. I dare you to live your childhood dream, if only for an hour, as I did.
Comment with your experience—I want to hear from you!