Ever since I saw Shakira’s music video for “Did It Again,” I’ve always wanted to learn to dance. Over the years I’d watch my friends who danced with a mix of envy and deep admiration. I’d watch endless clips of So You Think You Can Dance on YouTube, I’d write poems and plays devoted to dancers whom inspired me. I’d turn off all the lights at night, lock the doors and dance to Justin Timberlake like a madman, sweat dripping, limbs flailing awkwardly around. But I never pursued it in any way until the final quarter of my senior year of college when I signed up for Intro to Ballet.
The problem was that I look like I am more suited to be giving guys concussions on a football field than to performing a skilled arabesque. Anyone I told that I was about to take a ballet class laughed in my face and immediately demanded to watch me attempt this. My mom questioned hard and long if this was the best use of my tuition. I even doubted they made tights large enough for my neanderthal-like body. But I remained undeterred. I was going to be a ballerina damnit and I was going to be graceful.
I’m not sure I was very successful on either front, but I definitely tried. Every Monday and Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. I made my trek across town from my dorm room to my class; my tights worn under my sweatpants. I definitely looked out of place in class. One of just two males, I was this large, hairy obelisk in a sea of dainty little dancers.
It took me some time to find my footing in both senses of the word. For years, I had struggled to merely touch my toes and now my legs were twisting and contorting and stretching into positions that I was certain would send me to the hospital. With every attempted plie in fifth position, I feared popping femurs, dislocating my hips and all around looking quite silly in front of all the pretty girls.
They really don’t prepare you for just how physically demanding dancing is. Every time I watched someone dance on TV it looks so effortless and carefree. Their happy stupid smiles deceiving me into thinking that, “Sure, I can do that! I got winded walking up the steps this morning but I can totally do all those leapy-turny things.” But I guess that’s why it’s an art-form. Because it’s a lie.
I was always three steps behind everyone else. My feet dragged too long, my legs fatigued after mere moments in the air. Each swing of my leg nearly resulted in an innocent woman being punted across the room. I was a sweaty, uncoordinated, near-asthmatic mess and that was just the warm ups.
Rhythm always seemed to escape me. My friend Colin tried to teach me guitar a few times and he would have to keep reminding me that I was trying to play a song. I would simply just strum to notes like a stiff, mechanical baby. More focused on putting my fingers in the right places than having any sort of fun. I was the same way when it came to learning steps to a dance, except my professor didn’t go slow enough for me to even know the steps, lotless try to get them right.
I’d sway clumsily around the room, trying my best to follow those around me but looking more like I was on satellite delay. Always a step behind, always looking awkward and scared. There was a window that looked out at the hotel next door. Sometimes people would look up, expecting to see some beautiful ballerinas in their element, but instead they saw my Butterballing ass flopping around like a drunk toddler who is both mad and deeply sorry.
But in all this mess, I still managed to stay relatively optimistic. I’d oscillate between excited eager beaver, ready to jump into each new exercise and the deeply regretful realist who knew it was probably better to hide in the corner.
I struggled to find my identity in that class. Sometimes I was the overly self-aware guy, making self-deprecating comments about how ridiculous I looked when I tried to do those fancy ballet jumps. Sometimes I was the astute professional, focused, smiling and diligently trying to perfect my craft. Most times I was just the person crying at the barre when the professor would start yelling at people.
One time I tried to be the super enthusiastic guy. When it was time to work, I slapped the ground and jumped around, hooting and hollering like Ray Lewis on game day. Trying to amp everyone up, but realizing that ballet requires a very different style of hype than a Super Bowl. I never tried to get anyone amped in class again.
But the most important thing was that I tried. Consistently and without fail. I didn’t complain, at loud anyway, when I felt like I was dying or when I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t let the crushing weight of my own awkwardness drive me out of class. When I stumbled in my exams, I quickly gathered myself and moved right along, my trademark apologies withheld. I know my professor respected me for it.
It wasn’t always a pretty sight and no I am not considering a career change, but it was a good way to spend my last ten weeks. With the steady ticking of that Doomsday Clock called adulthood driving me insane towards my impending graduation, it was nice to step aside from stacking mound of rejected job applications and do something fun. To do something I’d always wanted to do. It was a good reminder that even in the real world of bills and responsibilities, there is still some room to pursue dreams and take risks.
Sometimes you’ve got to be cool with looking a little silly to do the things you want. An awkward story is always better than no story at all.