Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Last Wednesday night I was having a particularly bad time in ballet class. Half a count off, balance not so good, and when the teacher had us close a simple step with the foot in front instead of in back I just couldn't get it right. It takes me a long time to get something in muscle memory. Maybe it was just illogical paranoia but it seemed like the teacher looked past me as she gave corrections. It was as though it was just too painful for her highly trained eye to watch.

It was then that I remembered a few sentences that Albert Einstein's second wife Elsa used when she was trying to get people to understand her husband as a complete human being. She wrote in a letter to a friend, "Such a genius should be irreproachable in every respect. But no, nature doesn't behave like this. Where she gives extravagantly, she takes away extravagantly." A great theoretical physicist and a guy who couldn't drive a car because it was too complicated.

I'm certainly not saying that any part of my life as a scientist involves genius. I fought just as hard in calculus class as I fight in dance studios to get it right. But it brought me a warm fuzzy feeling about myself as the mirror in front of me was trying to kick my ass. I might be dance "challenged" but there are other things. Learning to dance in middle age has its drawbacks. I'm certainly not as flexible or resilient as I was at thirty. Let's face it, when you dance you put it out there. I don't know of a more self-critical group of people than dancers of all kinds. Ballet is particularly ugly and pole is a total killer whether we want to admit it or not. So when nature gives you wrinkles, extra pounds, and ever tightening muscles what does nature give back?

You get transitions. Changing majors, getting fired, children, divorce and the passing of loved ones. You start to understand that when one door closes another one opens. The linear, "I gotta get there in the shortest amount of time" thinking gets reviewed in your 40's and 50's. You've been burned a few times and you are more likely to hesitate if something looks too good to be true. At some point it gets to be ok to stand still or not have every moment filled with words. Victories get just a little sweeter because you have lost more than one battle.

Lately in the pole studio I have been working with a piece of music I have talked about before by Dinah Washington and Max Richter, "This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight." It's a song that pulls me inside really hard. Four people have watched me dance it and their comments have been really wonderful. A year ago I couldn't dance it with the emotion I can now. Motion in stillness is easier now. Slowing down the steps and feeling each articulation of my body after a month and a half of not being able to walk without pain is a simple joy. I'm not ahead of the music, I wait for the clues.

Nature always gives you something for what she takes away. Because this bitter earth is not so bitter after all.