Cellist Who Tries Ballet

This summer, I’m trying something new. Ballet. I know, mom envy. Right? Wrong. Although I admire Ballet Boy enormously, I don’t want to be him.

So why ballet?

Simply because it was free. The small liberal arts college I teach cello at is offering a free intermediate class for any staff who have had at least one year of ballet. Which I have; forty years ago. The clincher was we don’t have to wear leotards and tights. Just ballet shoes.

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The first ballet shoes that have come to our house for me; I’m used to sewing my son’s elastics on his black or white shoes.

You’d think I’d have watched enough ballet classes to learn by osmosis. It doesn’t work that way, just as someone can’t learn cello by watching a bunch of videos.

I’m so horribly out of shape and lacking motivation to train for a race or triathlon that I decided I need to get off my duff and try something new. Ballet could bring me core strength, grace (ha!), or at the least, good posture. All of these things are true.

After two classes, I’m feeling truly humbled. The teacher is in her 70’s and seems to have some sort of early Alzheimer’s (no joke), so she often forgets where she is a combination mid-stream. A few of the ladies are middle-aged and pretty novice like me, and a few have definitely had quite a bit of ballet in the past and still look the part. I find it hard to keep my head up and not look down at what my feet are doing, a big no-no in ballet. I often have a strange sensation of deja-vu, but not because I have done this before. It is truly deja-vu (“vu” means viewed): I have seen Ballet Boy do these steps over and over again, yet I have no clue how to execute them physically.

There are several merits to this less-than-skinny (I believe the PC thing to say is curvy), middle-aged Mom doing ballet:

  1. The Suzuki Parent factor: In the musical method of learning founded by Dr. Suzuki, parents attend classes and learn how some basics of the instrument alongside their children. This is partially so they can help the children practice at home, but also so that they know it is NOT easy. It is important to have a kinesthetic sense of how to play, as well as aural/visual. I feel like taking ballet deepens my understanding of what my son does. I have a better sense of how steps and movements can build into a more complicated jump or combination.
  2. To become a better cello teacher: As a pedagogue, it is important to put yourself in the learner’s shoes again. I said this about my swimming lessons in this blog, and I will say it again here. Being on the other side of the teacher/student model is a reminder of how hard it is to set aside pride and self-deprecation in order to learn. It also makes me remember that it is important to break down steps and relay information in manageable steps so that the student can process the idea you are trying to teach.
  3. To learn to love myself: It is hard to stand in front of a mirror in close-fitting clothing for an hour. I’ve put on more weight this year than is healthy, and most of the time that manifests itself in “clothing crisis” where nothing fits that I’d actually like to wear. I just decluttered my closet, and it felt good to get rid of ill-fitting clothes or things that I had held onto for sentimental reasons. This summer I’m trying to also declutter my brain and make time to grow stronger again. Instead of focusing on my weight or wrinkles around my eyes, I’m turning my attention towards exercise that makes me stronger, more flexible and releases endorphins that make me happier. Last week I returned to the gym with Candy Ass and did biking, run/walking and weight training. With the addition of ballet, I’m trying to get into a groove of cardio/strength and movement. Ballet is has an artistic aspect that gives it a certain discipline and flair; anyone can go out and run with good or bad form, but ballet demands precision and flow. I have to forgive myself when it’s not quite right and keep trying, which takes a lot of humility.
  4. To present myself with confidence: Ballet creates better posture. The head looks up and out, not down, the back is straight and your shoulders don’t slouch. There is not tension in the neck or shoulders. Today I learned that trying to point my toes I was actually scrunching them up. Much of my tension in cello playing goes to my feet, and my back and shoulders sometimes get very sore. Ballet will help strengthen my core and make me more aware of tension.

There are different types of dancing that require less rigor, and might feel like more “fun” or more of a release, but I’m really enjoying my class, even if a beginning ballet class would have been more appropriate than intermediate.

Never pass up a chance to try something new! You won’t regret it.Right now I’m lying on the couch, feeling my quads and glutes and every part of my feet hurt, and savoring a homemade almond-milk and berry protein shake. Bring on the pain…

Ballet Boy shows us where it’s at. My leg will never be that high.



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