The Second Class
It’s today. I’m actually so excited about going to class, I can’t think straight. Okay, my knee already hurts and I have a butt spasm because I didn’t stretch enough after running yesterday. Not to mention that I fell down half a flight of stairs last night, landing on my hip, under the full laundry basket I’d been carrying. But this is why God made Ibuprofen. Medicated, caffeinated, I’m standing strong and ready to go.
Like Murphy’s law, both kids (aged eight and ten) are home sick today, but I persuade my sweet, supportive husband to telecommute for the first part of the day. I make everyone lunch, stick it in the fridge and go find my new black tights. (Oh, yeah, gorged on Thai food yesterday at a friend’s birthday celebration but who’s looking at my thighs?? Not even me.)
And now that I’m gathering my dance clothes, a word on footwear. After the first ballet class, I noticed that the balls of my feet felt bruised. It had been so many years, it took me a moment to remember why. From my father, I inherited a strange (painless in itself) foot condition which involves the absence of a few ligaments. This has been confirmed by X-rays. You’d only notice if you decided to squeeze my feet; you’d find that they’re not tough and thick like, well, feet—but bony and too-pliable, more like hands (no thumb, though; they look human). I solved this issue—once it was diagnosed—by wearing pointe shoes to dance whenever I could. (Not a hardship; pointe shoes were required at all times in the ballet companies I danced with.) Pointe shoes have hard boxes and kept my feet nicely—bound is the only word for it. Regular shoes also work, as do sneakers, but regular ballet slippers lack support. When I was in my very young, pre-pointe shoes days, my little feet were padded enough for none of this to bother me. Later, I was prone to stress fractures.
So, for today’s class I bring a pair of pointe shoes with the shank torn out. They still look like pointe shoes, but the sole is soft so I couldn’t dance on pointe even if I wanted to. I worry about what the other moms will think. Am I showing off? Being a “little trina?” No. This is about physical maintenance and longevity. I won’t wear down the bones in my feet just to avoid coming off like a princess. Aren’t we all too old for such judgments anyway? I put on the shoes. Tie the ribbons (which I must have sewn on about sixteen years ago.) It feels good. The shoes say, We’ve got ya old girl. Go ahead and dance. I say, I remember you guys, and catch a glimpse of my feet in the mirror, a gleaming flash of pink. I flex and point my right foot just a little and it feels like ballet—in a good way.
Some of the other women do make comments: Wow, you’re brave, and the like. I feel a desperate need to explain—you don’t understand: it hurts less like this—really! But I don’t need to bother. It’s a very live and let live crowd. If living means reliving a long-retired version of yourself, so be it.
The knee pain isn’t so bad this time. From the start I remember not to care how turned-out I am, to focus on enjoying the music, being as indulgent as I want in terms of épaulement (defined in Part 2), milking those lush crescendos. The class goes longer today, I’m told. We’ll be doing more turns and bigger jumps in the center. I’m wary of the latter. The idea of leaping, given my knee issue, is one reason I ruled out dancing again up until now. But after the adagio, I’m up for the waltzing pirouettes, adrenaline providing a nice analgesic. Grande Allegro (big jumps and leaps) is next. I go for it. Soon I’m doing it: a real grande jeté! If I squint at myself in the mirror, or better yet, don’t look at all, I can imagine sailing through the air, just as if nothing’s changed.
But when it’s time to try the combination on the left side, I grow sober. Sense comes into play, overriding Ibuprofen. No, we won’t go this direction, won’t do something as foolhardy as a big leap landing on my left leg—home to my long-suffering left knee. I mark the combination, skip the steps but join in for épaulement. I’m taking a bold step, dancing again like this, but I know my limits. Most of them, anyway.