Last night I danced in my third open house recital. Every May the pole dance studio where I dance has an open house where every level from beginner to advanced gets a chance to show their family and friends what the dance is all about. The first two years have been semi-traumatic for me. I’m the lone guy among thirty or so wonderful women.
This year was different. When my time to perform came up I was nervous to be sure but I wasn’t on the edge of panic. Strangely enough I have ballet dance to thank for that. It all started near the end of last summer when my pole dance teacher took my Mazzy Star and Tori Amos away from me and played Shubert’s Ave Maria and told me to do something with it. I think she has a bit of Jerome Robbins hidden in her somewhere. :-)
I’m sure it was awkward as hell to look at but inside it moved something. Somewhere deep inside I have this great need for structure and order and somehow my guts got connected with my legs and arms. After I finished the song my teacher and I talked and she suggested that I look at companies in Denver where I could learn modern or ballet. The mere thought of ballet scared the crap out of me. The thought of a fifty-four year old slightly gray haired guy walking into the world of Gelsey Kirkland, George Balanchine and Dancing on My Grave, gave me chills. I did the polite nod and shake my head knowing that I wanted my Mazzy Star back as soon as I could get my Ipod plugged back into the studio sound system.
The end of summer also marks the end of summer ice hockey and while I was getting the mandatory deep tissue massage that keeps a guy my age playing I mentioned that my pole dance teacher wanted me to “cross-train” and that ballet was one of her suggestions. My massage therapist just lit up. Her daughter is a “bunhead” and she told me about a local company in Broomfield, Colorado that had a professional company, a student company, and beginning adult classes. Ballet Nouveau. If you have read my earlier account of my: will I, won’t I, call the pole dance studio and talk with someone you probably know how this story played out.
In mid October I found myself standing at the barre not knowing a plié from a waltz step. I’m a hockey player. I skate like I walk, probably better. I was so lost. It was worse than the pole studio. My first pole lessons were in private and now I was surrounded by women. The class was supposed to be Fundamentals of Ballet but nearly every woman in that class had at one time or another taken ballet lessons. They were coming back to something that they knew and I can tell you that once you are a ballet dancer the steps live in you forever. Even the language is a killer. My second language is Spanish and “de” isn’t “duh”. I was learning a whole new terminology along with a trip back in time to a place that according to Jennifer Holmans author of Apollo’s Angels, no longer exists.
Thank God for my teacher. She is a former professional ballet dancer. She knows the steps, the mental anguish, the physical pain, and how to sew the elastic straps into a ballet shoe. She also understands the sheer beauty and peace that comes with the dance. By November I had given up the sweats and made the transition to a dance belt and tights. The male company members were all so kind and helpful. The little girls still always greet me with a bit of a quizzical look but I am just as home at the barre as I am at the pole.
I’m terrible at ballet but getting better. I tend to over think it and my fifth looks like fourth but it has given me a way to move and transition at the pole that is truly mine. I don’t do pole fitness. I’m a pole dancer and ballet has given me a way to connect the dots in a way that most men won’t touch. I’m tracing the lines of Elena Gibson, Amber Richard, and my teacher without pointe shoes.
You are never really sure if something is going to work until an audience sees it and this past weekend was it. For weeks I had been playing with choreography to Patti Scialfa’s song Spanish Dancer. As much as I like the song I was burning out on it and probably most important my wife really doesn’t like Patti’s singing. Carol was going to be at the Open House. I wanted my dance to have music she liked.
So I fell back on a song that I love but deemed too long for the program. Hans Zimmer’s A Way of Life from the Last Samurai movie soundtrack. The closer I got to May 14, 2011 the more I wanted to back out. I was working between static pole and spinning pole in my routine and trying to make it flow. My moves seemed too simple and Amber Richard had only finished introducing me to spinning pole in March. The only new move I had was the “jade” and spinning a sideways climb on a static pole. What I didn’t know I had was arabesque, balancé, degagé, shoulders open, a decent support leg, and knowing the count.
Open house rehearsal was Friday the 13th. How perfect. I have never felt so good about my dance. It was about the pole but I wasn’t glued to it like I would fall down if it went away. I loved having the space between the poles. I also had a story to tell. A story about warriors, kata, mind set, humility, duty, honor and accepting the sword. Accepting a way of life that the ancient samurai understood just as well as the soldier stationed with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan understands today.
The reception I got from the women at rehearsal was awesome. It was genuine. The best compliment I received was, "You told a story." Last night all the way up until I stepped up to the pole and let the music wash over me I was calmer than I have ever been before a performance. I started with my feet in third, and held my arms in preparation. From there I danced on the floor away from the poles and then came back to them. The poles weren’t slippery, I seemed to be able to hold my inversions just the right amount of time before I hooked and I landed a jade that felt pretty damn good. I hope that muscle memory kept my lines elegant and the “ugly” foot (as Amber calls it) out of sight. The applause and comments afterward made it one of those nights that will live forever. After every recital I always say never again. This time I’m just going to shut up about it and dance until next May.
People have asked me why I chose to be a dancer. I did not choose: I was chosen to be a dancer, and, with that, you live all your life. ~ Martha Graham
Earth Day and the March for Science
3 days ago