I have always loved ballet. I was never one of the little girls that took lessons when I was little. Instead, I grew to appreciate ballet as an art form through the annual performance of The Nutcracker my mother took me to every year. I would watch the beautiful ballerinas gracefully move across the stage and pick out my favorite “princess”. I always felt regret that I never took ballet and never danced in something like The Nutcracker. But I always rationalized that it was for the better, especially after seeing all the intense dance movies about girls having to have perfect bodies, good ankles, etc.
Fast forward about 20 years. I’m working in the library when this group from Alabama Youth Ballet comes to perform. “We have adult beginning classes too, you know” says Director David Herriott. I looked at him like he was crazy. After all, I’m not some young tiny thin person. I’ve never been built like a ballerina. Instead, I’ve always had a few “lovely lady lumps”. He assured me that people of all ages and body types take their adult ballet lessons. So I thought, “Why not?” This was a chance to fulfill that regret I had always felt about missing out on ballet when I was younger. I grabbed a few friends and we all signed up together.
Alabama Youth Ballet told me there wasn’t a dress code for the adult class. To just show up in something comfortable like sweats. But I figured since I had missed out on this whole experience as a child, I was going to go ALL OUT. I marched into Bloom Dancewear and got completely outfitted with tights, ballet flats, black leotard, and most importantly: the twirly skirt. (Side note: Bloom Dancewear totally carries ballet stuff in “real people” sizes. Who knew?) I looked the part. Now could I actually dance with grace and elegance?
The first dance lesson wasn’t too bad. Having friends along helped me not take myself too seriously. Mr. Herriott, our instructor, did a great job of never making us feel like we were completely klutzes or hopeless at dance. His instruction didn’t ever feel embarrassing, even when I was doing something wrong and was gently corrected. Overall, I felt pretty good about my ballet class. Over time, I started to get better and better. I (and my husband!) noticed that parts of my body were starting to tighten up. The stretches and exercises stopped feeling so awkward and forced. I looked forward to each ballet class. Then it happened: The audition sheet for The Nutcracker was posted on the bulletin board.
Should I do it? My mind raced. I wasn’t a 12 year old ballerina. I was a klutzy curvy mom with a full time job. However, I threw caution to the wind and signed up. I figured they’d give me one of the “Parents in the Party Scene” roles. But when the results were posted I found out that I was a mouse AND a member of the Arabian Princess corps. I was the only one above the age of 14 in these roles. But I was determined that I was going to do this. I showed up to rehearsals and learned the routines.
The months of rehearsals flew by, and before I knew it Opening Night was here. I was so nervous! Not about the audience, as I have no problems being up on stage in front of people. I was a theater kid in high school. I frequently get up and talk in front of my church congregation. Weekly I do library storytimes in front of crowds of kids and parents. I was nervous about my dancing. I knew I was not prima ballerina material. Would the barely six months of ballet lessons be enough to disguise me among girls who had been taking for years? Would I remember everything I practiced? Would my Arabian Princess top go flying off (like it had in the dress rehearsal)?
In the end, I did remember everything we practiced. My costume stayed on. I don’t know if my short ballet career disguised me amongst the veterans, but I think it was enough that I didn’t stick out as a complete novice. I had a great time meeting new people and developing confidence in myself. I realized that I didn’t have to be a perfect dancer to have a good time. I accomplished a lifelong dream and turned a past regret into a beautiful memory.
For those who might be considering taking adult Ballet lessons, I cannot say enough good things about Alabama Youth Ballet. The instructors there are kind and caring. The atmosphere is very relaxed and nothing like those “intense ballet movies”. There are people of all ages, sizes, and conditions in their Adult Ballet Class. Alabama Youth Ballet does a great job of taking an art form that has been traditionally kept to a select few and spreading the joy of dance to all.
So if you have an inner 5 year old ballerina who never got to take lessons as a child, think about signing up. It might just help you fulfill a dream or two.
Lexie Robinson Austin is one of the few born and raised Huntsville natives. She is a stepmom to one, a librarian to many, a reader of books, and baker of cookies. She likes ridiculously impractical shoes and the color pink.