When I was around 4 years old, my mother sent me to ballet.
I was a complete tomboy and absolutely hated it. I would misbehave and refuse to join in until finally she allowed me to stop going. A couple of months later, I’m told, I was no longer a tomboy, I was a princess and refused to wear anything lacking frills or jewels.
But even then, in the height of my reign, I was too stubborn to admit that I would have loved to go back to ballet. Most of the girls at my school went to dance lessons and I harbored an intense jealousy of them all, with their snazzy outfits and elegant frames.
Being who I am, I kept this up for a good few years, despite being desperate to get back to a dance class. At the ripe old age of 10 I decided to give up on this particular dream, it was way to late to start dancing now. I’d be a laughing stock, and would never be able to catch up with what everyone else had learned.
At 14 I realised how young 10 was and how it would have been completely fine to start dancing at that age. But of course, then I was 14, practically an adult, seriously too old to begin a new hobby with no previous experience.
When I started university at 18, I entertained the idea of joining the dance team. It was a chance to turn over a fresh leaf, be whoever I wanted to be and try new things. But speaking to friends around campus, everyone else trying out had years of experience and were real, proper, trained ballerinas. Some of them had even been dancing since the tender age of 14, since their childhood.
After moving to America I experienced the same feeling of being able to create a new life for myself, so I took the time to write down some things that I have always been afraid to do. I have to admit, the benefit of not knowing a single soul here helped to ease me out of my comfort zone and I don’t know if I could have done the same had I remained in London. Ballet came bubbling up to the surface yet again, niggling at the back of my brain and creeping forwards until I could no longer ignore it.
I wondered how young 26 would feel when I was 30. I wondered if would yet again kick myself for not having started sooner. Then I asked myself; would that annoyance outweigh the shame of completely embarrassing myself by attempting to prance around a room full of expert prancers? It was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
And so that night (before I talked myself out of it) I found myself nervously shifting from foot to foot in the foyer of a local dance studio, waiting for ‘Adult Ballet – Beginners’ to finally begin.
Upon entering the room I had to fight the urge to walk out again. Despite being told I needed no experience or special clothing to attend the class, I found myself in a sea of leg warmers, white tights and floaty wrap skirts. It was obvious I was the only bonafide beginner.
Things went from bad to worse when the instructor began rattling off instructions in French, with those around me nodding their approval, pointing toes and lifting arms in beautiful unison. I will forever wish someone had filmed me for the first 15 minutes of that class. Yes, it would be painful to watch, but I guarantee it would have been comedy gold.
By now, I was focusing so hard on looking like I knew what I was doing and chastising myself for not buying a ‘proper’ ballet outfit that I almost missed the pivotal moment of the evening. In between leg lifts I took a few seconds to really look around me at the other people in attendance. I guesstimated the class ages ranging from 20 to 70. Some were decked out in serious kit, but others danced in simple leggings and t-shirts. And whilst some were concentrating intently, others were smiling and chatting to their friends around them. All of them, I reminded myself, were in the beginner class, meaning that nobody was an expert.
Cracks began to appear in the beautiful unison I thought I had seen and I saw instead the beautiful chaos. Like myself, people missed steps, banged into each other and misunderstood instructions. But everyone was enjoying themselves. At that point I let go a little, took a deep breath and simply tried my best.
I thought I was doing great until I started watching myself in the mirror. I haven’t quite got that elegance down, but it felt so freeing to finally try something I had been avoiding my entire life.
I don’t know if I’ll be back to the beginner class or if I’ll become a prima ballerina, but I’m so proud of myself for giving it a go. It’s inspired me to try other things that I have previously felt were off-limits. So if there’s something you’re dying to do but haven’t built up the courage, just start! A year from now you’ll wish you started today.
Be sure to let me know how it goes!