LAMDA Poem - Stage Three - Ballet Lesson Wildcats Academy (Wildcats Theatre School)
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"Aren't you a bit too old for this ballet malarkey?" ask my chums from time to time. After seeing an overweight, lumbering hippo in black trying to do temps levés and balancé turns at least half a second behind everyone else in the Romeo and Juliet intensive (see Romeo and Juliet Intensive - the awful proof as the camera does not lie 21 April 2016) I could understand their point. For a few days I was absolutely pole axed by those pictures. I chickened out at the last moment of two classes that I normally attend out of pure embarrassment.
It did not take long to realize that there is no need to be embarrassed in class because everyone is too preoccupied with their own exercises to have time or energy to take an interest in anybody else's. However, that is a reason for not avoiding class rather than a positive reason for going to class.
I think I go to class for four reasons even though it can be tiring, sometimes painful and always takes up a lot of time.
The main reason is that I have learned more about ballet from the classes that I have taken over the last three years than I had picked up in a lifetime of watching performances from the stalls. I am far too old and far too fat and feeble ever to learn pointe and I cannot do most of the turns and jumps but I can do at least some of the steps and know how it feels to do them. More importantly I have - albeit fleetingly and imperfectly - felt the music flow through my body and to express the music which is an experience I think every dancer must know. It is a glorious sensation which makes all the pain and effort worthwhile.
Closely related to that is the excitement one gets just before a show as one finds one's position on stage in the dark. Then the music strikes up and the dancers go. It is actually very like the feeling I get when I go into court. I wrote about it the first time I did a show in The Time of My Life 28 June 2014. Strange though it may seem, I like advocacy too.
That leads me into my third reason which is that it helps me to do my job. Advocacy like dancing is a young person's game. It requires enormous explosions of energy in a very short time. It requires mastery of a lot of facts. It requires anticipation of what is to come. Exactly the qualities needed for ballet. That point arose when I met Sir Peter Wright in Budapest two weeks ago (see My Trip to Hungary 21 April 2016).
"Ballet keeps you mentally alert as well as physically fit" observed Sir Peter.
"I know" I replied. "I can speak from experience. It helps me do my job better."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Peter looking bemused. "And what kind of job might that be?"
"I'm a barrister. I have to be as nimble in my thoughts as you in your body and I have found the two go together."
The look of bemusement disappeared. He knew exactly what I meant.
So when my clerk remonstrates out of exasperation: "Nobody pays you to be a ballerina, do they miss" that will be my reply in future.
Finally, I have found a great esprit de corps in every ballet class I have done. Through class I have met some really nice people and made some very good friends, particularly in my Over 55 class. There are some splendid women who have led very impressive lives in that class. After we have pivoted precariously and thumped about doing sautes I like nothing better than sitting down with them in Café 164 or the tables by the lift at Quarry Hill to listen to their stories as well as their opinions - always interesting and original, occasionally provocative and sometimes brilliant - on just about everything.
So although ballet takes up a lot of time - although I am like Mma Ramotswe of "traditional build" - I shall still turn up in Manchester, Leeds or Huddersfield a couple of times a week and, occasionally, Danceworks or Pineapple or, indeed, even Budapest for my fix however ridiculous I may look.