Lucy Does Ballet

by Lisa on March 11, 2012

…first position, tendu to the front, flex, point, close. Repeat. On the eighth count grand plié. Tendu to the side, flex, point. Repeat. On the eighth count close back. Grand plié. Tendu to the back…

I think most little girls, at some point in their life, want to be a ballerina when they grow up. Our tiny tot, Isabelle, by age two, had never even seen a ballet, or owned a ballet book, declared, “I want to dance ballet. I want to be a ballerina.” A determined child already, she kept at it. “Ballet. Ballet. I want to take ballet.” Calmly we assured her, “As soon as you’re a big girl and go potty on the potty chair, you can take ballet.”By her third birthday she was enrolled in a class.

We knew it was going to be a life-long passion at her first recital.

Our chubby-faced cherub, outfitted in her recital costume, walked into the performance building and saw several hundred people standing in line, waiting to get in the auditorium. “What are they doing, Mommy?” she asked. Treading lightly, I stated calmly, “Um…well…um…they are all here to watch the recital.” Thinking in my head, “My three year old is NOT going to get on stage with all these eyes staring at her.” But, her pert reply of, “Oh Mommy, they are all here to see ME!” sent me into gales of laughter. I knew, then and there, not only would she go on stage to perform her piece but we may also need one of those vaudeville hook-type canes to get her off stage.

“You are my Sunshine” started up and she came bopping out with five or six other little girls wearing bright yellow satin leotards under bright yellow sticky-outy tutus. The girls formed a line, placed their hands on their hips, and did a couple of pliés. They chasséd back and forth, and then grabbed hands with one another and danced around in a pretty even circle. Then they disappeared behind a prop. Each little head poked out with a big smile—radiating pure joy and adorableness. One by one they skipped back to their spots on the invisible line in the center of the stage. Only this time, someone was standing in Little Miss Sunshine’s spot. Holding nothing back, she stood in front of her pint-sized peer, her chubby finger wagging in the other girl’s face. A loud whisper could be heard, “You are in the wrong spot. That’s my spot.” Sunshine’s arms moved up to the little girls shoulders and she was properly redirected to the “correct” spot.

The rest of dance finished flawlessly, and the little ones turned to exit off stage. All except…you guessed it…the career ballerina. She continued to look out into the audience, smile, and wave. More waves, more smiles. Finally another loud whisper could be heard from behind the curtain, “Isabelle…” She turned and started skipping off. One final beaming smile and wave and then she disappeared behind the curtain.

“…feet in fifth, coupé, tendu front, close. Pas du cheval to the front, to the side, to the back, close. Coupé, tendu to the back, close. Pas du cheval back, pas du cheval side, pas du cheval front, close in the front…, coupe, tendu, close…”

She would lay belly-side down on the floor intently watching their every move. As the little girls flitted and floated about and she would sit stone-still. Not moving a muscle. Like a statue. Taking it all in—watching, studying, soaking.

The whole family was at our house for her third birthday. Everyone was oohing and ahhing about Isabelle’s upcoming recital. “Go get your costume, Isabelle, and you can show everyone your dance.” Isabelle ran in the other room and came out in rainbow glory, ear to ear grin, and made her way to the center of the room. She got into position. I moved to the stereo. Everyone stopped talking and all attention went to the little one on the floor. Sophia crouched down next to her. Isabelle hissed, “Move. You don’t know this dance.” Isabelle,” I barked back, “Isabelle! Be nice! Sophia can do it with you.”

The music started. The two girls stood up perfectly in sync. Step by step they continued to move. Mirror images waltzing around the living room. Isabelle faltered but Sophia continued dancing. “Wait! Start over!” cried Isabelle. The music continued to play, and Sophia continued to sway. Completely in time, she ended on the music—correctly positioning herself in the final pose. “She can’t do that!” Isabelle wailed. “You better put that little one in lessons,” someone said.

The next fall we enrolled our three year old in ballet. As the teacher called everyone to the center, Soph stood on the side hugging my leg. She wouldn’t budge. No amount of coaxing or cajoling had any effect. “Oh well…it is the first week,” I thought. The next week: the same routine. The teacher called the little girls to “come make a pizza” in the center of the room, but Sophia only clung to me. Week after week we repeated this process. She’d lay on the floor and watch, but never participate. Finally I decided to pull her out. “She’s not ready,” I thought. “Or, maybe she doesn’t really want to do ballet, or maybe she just wants to be the director/choreographer.”

The following September Sophia emphatically stated, “I want to take ballet.” The all-knowing, wise, lecturing mother in me started in, “You know…it can’t be like last year. You have to participate if I sign you up.” “I will,” she promised. She did. She has. She is. And, she has never looked back. 

At almost nine, she still loves ballet as much as her older sister. Her smile from the stage is one of unleashed joy. It’s no longer a watched passion. Her feet literally sing ballet—everywhere she goes: she goes dancing.

“…feet in first position…shoulders back, hips under, stomach in, chest out, chin up, knees straight…”

At 43 I’m feeling the mid-life flab. The post-40 body. The old-gal-just-ain’t-what-she-used-to-be syndrome. My break-neck metabolism has turned to molasses, and things are simply not springing back like they did when I was my 20s. Yeah, I know. Duh! I’m not 20 anymore. But in my mind I still feel college age—just a wee bit wiser. The body, however, says differently. “I need exercise,” I tell myself. “Desperately—both for my body, and for my sanity.” A kind of get out my grumpies-routine, and to remind myself I do posses moving parts and working muscles.

My exercise regime of the past 11+ years has consisted of prepping for dinner, running to the table to eat, whipping the dog, corralling kids, sorting laundry, dialing the phone, and pounding keys on the keyboard. Not really the kind of heart pumping, or muscle moving, approach that an older lassie requires to maintain a healthy body and mind.

So…I started a class. Yep. A bona fide class. With other 40+ women (Sorry if some of you gals are younger). Doing what? Ballet, of course. Amnesia, or early onset Alzheimer’s, enabled me to forget that I didn’t/don’t know jack about ballet. I’m not talking Jack, but jack. As in nothing, nada, zippo, zero, zilch. Couldn’t have told you more than five ballet terms six weeks ago, but I’m learning.

So far it’s been a very humbling experience. But, a fun one. And, I’m hooked.

I often stand at the back of class watching these way more experienced women, and I marvel at their beauty and grace. I marvel at being in this new place of learning. I marvel at the fellowship, camaraderie and encouragement I’ve received. I marvel at an exercise method I never even knew existed for people over 15 who are not aspiring to be professional dancers. And, in between giggles about my bull in a china shop approach, I am enjoying ballet.

Recently someone snuck into class and took this video of me. Thought you might enjoy seeing it. And, remember it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks—or ballet!


Special thanks to:

John Grensback — The girls awesome & amazing ballet teacher of 6+ years, mentor, instructor, friend

Megan Murphy — Opportunity provider, cohort, great friend & New York Life agent (yeah…it’s a shameless plug…do you need any insurance?)

Oregon Ballet Academy — Our home away from home


Felicia Sanders — Another of Isabelle & Sophia’s wonderful ballet instructors, my patient teacher extraordinaire & my friend


Sarah Beth Byrum from All That Dance — Isabelle’s first dance teacher and yellow tutu provider, our neighbor, second mom to my kids, and my dear friend

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Faye March 12, 2012 at 11:55 am

Love it! Good for you!

Sarah Beth Byrum March 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm

You are never too old for ballet! Way to go Lisa, I may just join you in class one of these days if I ever stop teaching long enough to take a class myself. And by the way, I did buy you a black leo that your youngest daughter claims “disappeared” on the way home from my house. If it doesn’t show up at your house, I’ll send the search dogs in to the chaos of my daughter’s room. Love you!

Beth March 12, 2012 at 9:37 pm

We have an awesome video of Emma’s one & only “recital” when she was about 3 and she was taking a “dance” class through Sheldon Community Center. Another student accidentally invaded her personal space, and for the rest of the recital, she pouted. In the middle of all the other dancers. Scott was video-taping, and I made him continue cause when are you going to get to record your kid being a complete pain-in-the-ass? :- D

Lisa March 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm

You’ll have to “share” the video some time—at my house, unfortunately, it’s more often the Mom being the pain….

Lisa March 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Soph did tell me that…”Hey Mom, Sarah Beth got you a leotard.” Me: “Great, Soph, where is it?” Her: “I don’t know…um…you don’t have it…well I guess it’s somewhere between their driveway and ours…” How does a kid do that? It’s probably “floating” or dancing somewhere here in the chaos. Maybe we can team up for a “clean up” day! ;-) Love you too!!

Lisa March 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm

My faithful, Faye. Thanks for reading!

Melody March 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Lisa….Lisa….Lisa….an aspiring ballerina AND a very accomplished writer (and mama)! I’ve seen Lisa the mama in action – but wow! never knew about Lisa the writer. This article made me laugh out loud while bringing tears to my eyes. Your girls are such beautiful dancers (and people). Their joy of life shines through their movement on stage and off. Thank you for sharing this experience. Much of it resonated with me for my own girls (particularly the non-releasing of the leg!) I look forward to reading more of your terrific writing.

Lisa March 20, 2012 at 7:01 am

Thank you for your kind words, Melody! Looking forward to getting to know you better—and, seeing you plie and jete in front of me so I can watch how it’s done correctly while pretending I am improving! ;-) Thanks for visiting the site.

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