Friday, October 26, 2012

Pirouette and Other French Words

I don't know if I've written this before, but prior to moving to New York I danced for about 20 years. Never professionally, never hardcore, but it was something I usually did at least once a week for a very long time. When I got to the city, instead of dancing, I started doing a lot of yoga instead. Perhaps incorrectly, I felt that I almost didn't deserve to dance anymore, that it should only be for people whose souls truly could not breathe without it. Plus, classes were expensive.

As time wore on, though, I noticed bits and pieces of my former dance life were missing--I would walk down the street listening to my iPod, choreographing in my head, when I woke up in the morning I would do the same stretches I used to do before warming up, and I noticed myself itching to get back into a studio and take class. It's not like New York wasn't filled with studios, and taking a class every so often wouldn't kill me or my wallet. But I was scared. I remembered the way I used to really get down on myself for not doing as good a job as possible, how frustrated I would be for not getting a combination quickly enough or when I fell off releve from a double pirouette at the very end of a turn.

At OXHEART's Dancetropolis event, though, where our art show was dance- and music- themed, I found myself freestyling in a large group of people to "It's a Man's World," by James Brown. Yes, I fell off my pirouette again, but I just laughed and then did some chaines (pronounced sha-nays) and long, luscious arm movements I missed from modern and lyrical dance and it was just fine. "Man, I wish I could do that again," I said to myself. There was really nothing stopping me.

Saturday morning last week I woke up and itched for some exercise, but there wasn't a yoga class that matched up with my schedule. Curious, I began to flirt with some schedules on various dance studio websites, and I found a class that piqued my interest--a jazz class at Peridance in the East Village. There were studios closer, but I have an affinity for the East Village and if I left my house in 15 minutes I would make it just in time. I scrambled into my dance bag, still hanging on the back of my closet door, and dug out my jazz shoes. I threw on some clothes I could move in, and I was out the door. "Quick!" I kept thinking to myself. "Go before you change your mind!" And I went. I had no thoughts except to just go and get there on time, first of all. Everything else I could worry about later.

Grant Chang's 2pm jazz class was filled with mostly ladies and the occasional dude. They all stretched before class, and I wondered if I should too but instead I just sat patiently and waited. I figured we'd have a warmup, anyway. I was not wrong. Grant rolled in with his super cool dancer dude trucker hat, white t-shirt, and basketball shorts, socks on his feet. Suddenly Rihanna started blasting. He clapped twice and moved to the front and center of the room, beginning a combination of stretches, leans, plies, and releves, which everyone followed. Some knew it already and I almost felt behind, but then I was like, uh, Elyssa, it's been 2.5 years since you've been in a dance studio. Cut yourself a break. And just follow along and pick it up because that's what you're supposed to do when you take class. Ready go.

And I did. I picked up the warm up, I sweated my face off, I did crunches until I thought I was going to pass out, and it felt wonderful. Sometimes I forget how wonderful it feels to actually experience your body doing the work--I love yoga, but it's slow, which can be both good and bad. I stretched my foot to my face for the first time in a while and my hamstrings yelped, partially with joy, partially not, but even so I surged with electricity and adrenaline. I felt sore and sweaty and beautifully alive. And we hadn't even gotten to the dance combination yet.

To my surprise, I picked it up faster than I anticipated. The performance part was always something I could get easily, and the moves came along with it. It wasn't perfect by any means, but I think another few times and I could have gotten it even better. Again, not too shabby for the first time in two and a half years. Insert 'riding a bicycle' cliche here. I found myself thinking instantly, "And next time you come, you'll do even better." It was pretty fair to say that my danceless days were over.

Drenched in sweat, I went and bought a bottle of water in the lobby. Grant was near the cash register, so I said thank you for the class. "You were great!" he said with a smile. Great? It was hardly the word I would use, but I just sort of mumbled, "Oh, thanks, but it's been a while." I could barely look him in the eye. "No, really!" he said. "You were great!" I laughed and smiled meekly, and said thank you again. Maybe he was just being nice, seeing that I was a new face or something. It felt nice to hear nonetheless, and I have always been my harshest critic so who knows.  My body quivered as I left the studio and walked down 13th Street, knowing full well that the delightful Stretch Armstrong rubbery feeling I had would soon be a celebration of Advil. Just like the good old days.