at the beginning of the year, along with a horde of dutiful new years resolution making minions, dev and i joined the hollywood ymca.
prior to getting our membership we had carefully weighed up our options. they were:
+ attend expensive hipster yoga classes in our neighborhood but then not have enough money for hipster pho.
+ ride walk our beach cruisers around the slopes of silverlake.
+ keep sitting in front of screens and become hunchbacks by the age of 35.
+ join a gym.
traditional gyms don’t really appeal to either of us. too many mirrors and fluorescent lights and muscled people discussing the best spirulina protein shake recipes. boring. we were both really drawn to the idea of a community gym. a place which was home to chubby toddlers doing gymnastics and ambitious 90 year old power-walkers. if you are like me and sometimes overwhelmed by the slickness and shmooziness that you can encounter in LA, the hollywood ymca is an oasis where you actually see families and a cross-section of society that is primarily there to quietly work out, not ‘network’ and flash snow-white teeth hoping to land a role in the next sitcom. and so in this maze of a multi-storied building, i actually feel like i live in a normal city, with normal people, and even god forbid, imperfect people. people who don’t have perfect smiles and perfect hair and perfect pilates bums.
and so there we were in early 2011, at the ymca membership office with shiny expectant eyes and shoes made for exertion, and a naive belief that within a few weeks we’d be two lean, mean, fit machines.
and then reality hit. and my excitement about going to yoga every.single.day was hindered with the fact that i have to drive all the way there. and classes are 90 minutes and my attention span only lasts 60 minutes. and i am exhausted from yet another road trip. and modern family is on tonight. and you see how it goes.
however, in the past few weeks there has been a resurgence in our ymca attendance. i don’t know if it was dev’s brand new neon green sneakers that prompted the trend or the fact that we keep watching House and realizing we shouldn’t take our health for granted (beware the sarcoidosis!) but something kicked in, and now we are routinely back at the Y. we both spend our time at the gym very differently. i generally go to a yoga class – and i’m not fussy about the specific practice: ansura, bikram, ashtanga, kundalini…it’s all great. as long as there’s an instructor who actually cares about the philosophy of yoga, i’m happy.
dev’s ymca routine however, looks a little more like this.
1. buy a hot cup of black coffee from the vending machine.
2. slowly drink said cup of coffee in the outdoor courtyard.
3. respond to emails/continue working/take over the world using all available gadgets and free wifi.
4. eventually source an eliptical machine in the coziest nook of the gym.
5. stream an episode of the office on the iphone while elipticalling.
i think someone might be taking a more ‘subtle’ approach to exercising, but i’m not going to be critical since i’m just glad that me and neon-green-shoes-gundry, are doing something to prevent muscle atrophy.
[sidenote: found this photo at the ymca from 1979. it scares me just how much the man on the right bears an uncanny resemblance to my spouse]
and now we get to the good part. the part about how i decided that it’s never too late to be a ballerina. except for the time when it is. [heads up, this might be the title of my autobiography].
basically, every monday as i would walk into my yoga class i’d spy on the ballet class that was warming up. i was romanced by this class. by the classical music. the legwarmers. the french words that i couldn’t understand. it also didn’t help that i’d watched black swan (twice).
so, after weeks of talking about going to ballet, ash and i set a date and made it concrete. there was a class on wednesday and we were going.
i should mention that a few weeks beforehand ashley had given me ballet slippers as a gift. they were pink and soft and perfect. when i first put on the slippers i felt graceful. i felt poised. i felt like a ballerina. actually, i felt like a princess bride ballerina. how’s that for magic slippers?
on the day of class i sewed the elastic of the slippers into the shoe just like the somewhat creepy instructional video taught me. i planned my outfit. white tights. leg warmers. comfortable long sleeved top. hair in a bun on top of my head. i stood in front of the mirror, i put on my ballet slippers, and i twirled around in my bedroom, while dev stared on adoringly.
[sidenote: the problem with having someone love you no matter what kind of ridiculous antics you're up to is that it's MISLEADING. like a mirror that's leaning on an angle and therefore makes you appear taller and thinner, a person who loves you and thinks everything you do is charming, is actually leading you astray. loving partners should definitely come with warning labels. something along the lines of 'the way she/he looks at you does NOT reflect how the rest of the world will look at you. think twice before leaving the house'.]
ash picked me up in her mini and in a cloud of pink slippers, water bottles, and excitement we headed to the class.
the first moment of uncertainty was when we found that instead of being in the dance studio, the class that evening was going to be held in a racquetball court. no mirrors. no real barre. just a white square box. however, i was determined not to let this sully my first foray into the world of long dancer limbs and pirouettes. then we met one of our classmates – a dismissive man ballerino* who made it very clear he had no tolerance for us fresh-faced newcomers. our cute eagerness was completely lost on him and he barely made eye contact with us while he intently warmed up. what he lacked in conversational skills he made up for in a series of loud, disconcerting, ‘grunting’ sounds, which i think were supposed to impress us.
*update: ash just informed me that a guy ballerina is a ballerino. who knew?!
a few other students trickled in and i began to notice something unnerving. everyone looked kinda bored. where was the excitement? the pizazz? sure, this was ballet which requires discipline and structure, but where were the other eager excited students like me and ash? the teacher was all set up and so we sidled up to her, to do the customary ‘we’re new here’ introductions and she was lovely and sweet and made us feel right at home.
however, she forgot to mention one rather important piece of information: we were not just in a ballet class, but rather, the intermediate slash advanced ballet class.
what that meant is that for the next 75 minutes this lovely, patient, teacher rapidly rattled off ballet terms in french, while the rest of the class nodded and executed her choreography perfectly and there was me. a frenetic jumble of hands and legs and feet and a crooked back. all the magic of the slippers drained away and it took every ounce of my focus just to figure out where to put my legs, let alone my flailing hands.
this was definitely not a class you could talk in, much rather bust out laughing, but ash said that in between the guy’s grunting and my jerking limbs, she nearly lost it multiple times.
mid-way through the class we moved downstairs to the actual dance studio. and i realized that it had been a blessing being without the mirrors, as now i could not only imagine but actually see how uncoordinated i was compared to the rest of the experienced dancers in the class. it was like someone had shot me with a giant injection of humility. straight to the heart. because the truth was, i thought i could handle ballet. i am reasonably strong. i do yoga. i am flexible. i can hold half moon pose for half a day. but all that meant NOTHING in the face of ballet.
the last 15 minutes of the class was ‘floorwork’ which basically translated for me as: ‘how to be singled out and humiliated’. the dancers gathered in one corner of the room and, one by one, grande jetted and pirouetted across the floor. legs were leaping. backs were straight. arms were floating gracefully. and finally, in a moment of clarity that had arrived 60 minutes too late, i realized the only option was to sit this part out. and so i did.
at the end of the class ash came up to me all concerned that i was too defeated to ever try ballet again. but during those last 15 minutes of watching bodies leap across the room with perfect form, i realized one thing, i wanted to learn how to do what they were doing. sure, i would find the beginner class but, more importantly, i would be coming back for more.
because, some lessons, like ‘you’re too old to begin ballet’ are obviously only learned after repeat humiliation.
bear & ballerina.
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