Plié, jeté, arabesque. These terms dance in my head years after my ballet lessons ended.
When I see a ballet, I remember doing these steps and marvel at how the bodies on stage move with such fluidity, poise, and grace. Older now, I understand how hard dancing is: the strength required to maintain balance, the suppleness needed to lift a leg into the air, the concentration to spin rapidly across the floor.
As a child, my mother took my sister and me on the train to NYC from New Haven to attend the ballet. After we’d visit my Great-Aunt Sylvia for dinner. Sometimes my mother drove to my grandparents’ house in Flushing, Queens and we’d take the subway into Manhattan, my grandmother pushing my sister and me under the turnstile. From the conductor’s first downbeat to the final ovation- and I loved how these would go on and on long after the lights were up and coats already on— the entire experience was always a treat.
The all Balanchine program included four dances. While often I prefer a story ballet, like Coppelia or Giselle, it was pleasant seeing the variety of choreography, costumes and staging with the different offerings.
I danced from very young through 8th grade, taking ballet and modern classes. I walked to Mrs. Dauer’s small studio above her garage and appeared in the annual recitals held at the town hall. I kept a scrapbook, cutting out photos of ballerinas from newspapers and magazines- a requirement of the class. I credit those ballet lessons for giving me good posture, strong legs, and a sense of esthetic. Where else does one learn about music, composers, and movement than in a dance class?
By high school, my interests changed. Boys. Sports. More homework. Yearbook, student council, and so on. I couldn’t keep up with dancing.
The urgency to specialize I notice is happening younger and younger. My daughter danced through elementary school and loved it. By 7thgrade, when she became more serious about tennis, she too couldn’t manage dance classes. Her peers were taking at least three to four classes a week, something she couldn’t do. To merely enroll in a lower level class meant she would be with very young girls and couldn’t dance on toe, which she had already accomplished.
I see the same pattern developing with my two nieces who dance. As they get older, there’s more pressure on them to take more classes at the expense of pursuing other interests.
This is worrying. Children need to be exposed to many activities and find what suits them. To grow audiences, arts organizations need young people filling seats. Children, if taking lessons in dance, music, or art, would find a visit to a performance or exhibit more fun.