DIY dance studio

Although I’m terrible at it, I really love ballet and I really love to pretend I’m outrageously talented.

I take classes just twice a week, far less than adequate for a late-blooming ballerina who is both simultaneously at the start of her career and at the end of her career. But at $15 to $17 a pop for a drop-in adult beginner class twice a week for 75 to 90 minutes, it gets a bit pricey.

In a world where I ruled, I’d have my very own Russian ballet teacher and/or share her with a few dance peers (all of whom I’d be better than) and have lessons 4 days a week, each being two-hour sessions. Alas, I don’t rule the world—yet—and dance culture does not cater to 28-year-old wannabe ballerinas who discovered their ambition and love of dance far too late in life. Especially not to those with bank accounts that top out at coins stuck in couch cushions. Tutus are expensive.

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So, what’s a girl to do with a prima ballerina dancing inside her just waiting to escape? Why, she’s to build her own studio, of course, where she’s the principal dancer every day! Those plies and pirouettes don’t do themselves, after all.

A few blogs ago, I wrote about the home dance studio the somewhat psychotic character, Tiffany, had in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. It’s my dream to have a dance studio like that (with perhaps more chandeliers and less crazy) in my own home one day. But, alas, right now, I’m renting a one-bedroom apartment with limited space for me, my clothes, and my cat.

Lack of space, budget, and property ownership doesn’t stop me! There are three main things necessary to having a functional ballet-your-ass-off studio that can fit into nearly any dance enthusiast’s life:

  • A barre. Not a bar. A barre is for warm-ups, stretching, tendus, etc. A bar is for drinking and poor decisions. I do welcome an innovative combination of the two: a barre-bar, because pirouettes improve exponentially when you’re drunk.
  • A mirror. Most studios have lots of mirrors but mirrors are heavy, expensive, and if you break one—bad luck. One will do the trick, preferably tall and able to move about, ie: not heavier than a hippo nor hermetically sealed to the wall.
  • Floor space and non-carpeted floor. If there isn’t enough room to do a grand battement in the space you’re in, injury is imminent and so is a premature halt to a meager career. If the floor is carpeted, static electricity and friction are blocking even the best, mediocre talent. Find a space and find a smooth, sturdy floor (such as laminate) if wall-to-wall carpeting lines every room but the bathroom. Dance floors can be expensive, so be inventive.

I went online and shopped for barres. I didn’t expect to find anything, but I found a plethora! People are just as wacky as me, after all! I eventually selected a  brand called Vita Vibe. Is it as pretty as the ornate, wooden bar crafted by fairies I coveted? No. But it’s light (only 10 pounds), portable, easy to assemble, inexpensive, and had free shipping. I chose the 5-foot length because I’m in my late 20s—I could have a growth spurt at any moment and a girl’s gotta stretch.

Next, I overcame my carpet dilema with flooring from Home Depot. At $20, I found “Glentown Oak Glueless Laminate Flooring with Click Installation and a Natural Wood Grain Look and Feel.”  The flooring snapped together easily and rests evenly on my icky, old carpet. One “Glentown Pack” pack can reach a size of 6.5 feet by 4.5 feet. I only used half, so the other half is for a friend! It’s like the newest version of BFF heart necklaces!

With a mirror already in my possession that meets the standards of light, easy to move, and cheap, my studio was complete.

The result…

TADA!

My very own dance studio! (Cat not included.)

My very own dance studio! (Cat not included.)

This new studio benefits both me and Pancake. I can’t deprive my cat of her love of the arts, she seldom gets to the Kennedy Center to view any sort of ballet anymore. Although, she’s an interactive audience member, always getting under foot…

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It won’t work out, a non-ballerina’s tale

It’s no secret that I have a slight obsession with ballet. It’s also no secret that I am a mediocre, beginner ballerina at best. If you put me next to the average 4-year-old dancer, we will be equals. But that punk kid can’t drink or drive, and certainly not drink and drive (no one should), so I win.

I’m 28, and I started taking my dance career seriously at 27 1/2. The retirement age for a ballerina is 29.

To the far right, you will see me...if that was me.

To the far right, you will see me…if that was me.

Look, I don’t need to be…um…Ok, I don’t know any super famous ballerinas but I don’t need to be {insert name}, I realize that I must live with my situation and make the most of it—performing for my cat. Still, I get dismayed when I look like Frankenballerina because I can’t unclench my arms to elegantly pose in second position, or that my turnout is more parallel than 180 degrees. My teacher instructs the class to do a simple combination, and all I hear is stupid French and see a lot of angles my body doesn’t want to contort to.

Days when I get discouraged, it’s not that I don’t like dance, but I kinda don’t like me. I don’t like that I made a decision to play basketball in high school rather than tip toe across a stage. I hate that my body isn’t the quintessential mold of a dancer, long neck and legs (giraffe?), no bum, 95 pounds. I’m sad that I don’t have money to pay for private lessons and bedazzled tutus. I’m despondent that I don’t progress as quickly as I would like and that the damn pirouette isn’t turning my body like its supposed to.

After 6 months of dancing, I can’t understand why I’m still in the beginner classes, why I’m not en pointe, why it’s so hard to twirl without getting dizzy. I don’t understand why I can’t stretch my foot to my head while in relevé and why I have no balance standing still let alone going to posse without the assistance of a barre. (Too many dance terms? I’m just showing off…)

I feel silly and ashamed walking into class knowing that the only thing that can come of dancing is fulfilling a dream to maybe become a little good—for me. My teachers, who studied ballet for 50 years or who danced in the Bolshoi, must look at me and think, “she is an embarrassment to the art of dance.”

One day...

One day…

If ever I don’t feel quite up to dance, it rarely has to do with laziness or lack of motivation, it’s fear to fail. That fear feels like a security blanket, a justification that if I don’t get better, I know I did it to myself. Whereas, if I try, try, try, and make no progress, I am truly a talentless, two-left footed toad.

Yet, it’s not like that. I’ve developed great relationships with my teachers, I’ve made friends at ballet who are just as cooky as me about dance, and the little improvements I make feel like I’m a living legend.

Patience is the true hurdle I need to leap across.

Last week I had an amazing moment at my ballet class. I asked my teacher a legitimate question about being able to try pointe. He responded with, “Why would you want to do that?” Apparently, it’s quite painful. But before class started, he looked at me and said, “You’re something special.”

Ok, I know he didn’t mean that I am the next principal dancer, but I knew he saw the little prima ballerina that swirls around inside me. That might be just be good enough for me to be good enough. That’s more than good enough.

Taking a page from the “Silver Linings Playbook”

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I want my own dance studio, and maybe my own Bradley Cooper…

A lot can be said about the film Silver Linings Playbook, especially in regard to mental health, life, love, blah blah blah. The film was great but the best thing about it, in my opinion, was not the message or the acting, it was that the character of Tiffany had her own dance studio.

Oscar winner (go girl) Jennifer Lawrence plays a quirky, manic, Tiffany, who dances as a form of therapy. In addition to the psychological benefits she reaps from dancing, she has a passion for the art and owns it as far as her skills can take her. Her interest in dance seemingly didn’t manifest itself into action until adulthood.  Naturally, I felt like she was me, or I was like her, but in a less hyperbolic mental sense and really only relating to dance (maybe, also, occasional bouts of mania).

The first floor of her home serves as a studio, barre included, mirrors lining the walls, and oak floors for optimum capitalization of “breaking-it-down.” My new dream.

I wouldn’t be able to do anything but twirl around in a tutu all the day, and tutus would be the required dress for that particular room—for everyone (house rules).

Ballerina in the making

Recently I posted about my love of ballet and that as an adult with no consistent training ever and a serious lack of natural grace, I’ve undertaken classes to become the prima ballerina that lives inside my imagination.

Ever since I started ballet classes only six weeks ago, all I want to do all day is dance and talk about dancing. So naturally, I have to write about it lest I burst!

Currently, I take two to three classes a week at the Dance Institute of Washington and Joy of Motion Dance Center, both located in Washington, DC. These dance institutions offer amazing dance opportunities for underprivileged children and teens, aspiring novice adults, and the nearly professional talent.

What started as a 7-week enrollment period and one hour class, has turned into 4 hours of dancing a week and me finally being able to touch my toes.

The astounding part of this process is that I see myself improving—the difference between my turnout in first position from day one to now is so drastic that I’m sure the Washington Ballet will begin scouting me any day now.

I recognize that I am developing as a dancer, but who I have to thank besides the nonprofit organizations that make my twinkle toe dreams come true, are the teachers who take the time to share their skills, their time, and their patience to teach us novices. For the first time in my life, I’m taking direction—it’s amazing that listening to the teacher and putting it into practice actually works. What an innovative idea.

I’m already anticipating the next class, because although I get dizzy when I twirl too much, my teacher said I have a naturally strong pirouette and that is a talent that needs nurtured and would be criminal to deny the world.

Change that hair color to red, and that's pretty much how me sleeping.

Change that hair color to red and that’s pretty much me sleeping.

I want to be a ballet dancer (or just twirl and twirl in a skirt till I vomit!)

From the time I was under 3 feet tall till now (5’6 and 3/4′), I have had an affinity and absolute obsession with ballet. 90% of this fascination has to do with the tutu, but more on that later.

My mother enrolled me in dance classes at the tender age of 4, probably at my youthful insistence.  The immediate disdain I had for the art was astronomical. I vividly remember my mother tying the red and green plaid, ribbon laces of my tap shoes as I braced myself,  afraid for my life and limbs, to tread across the slippery floor, thinking this was a terrible idea.

Although tap instilled in me fear, ballet inspired in me hate. I still see the circle my fellow pink slippered friends and I were forced to stand in, our arms on the shoulders of the preschooler in front of us to perform the bunny hop. I stepped out of the circle, refused to move, and  shook my head. This wasn’t going to happen.

The teacher, the elderly Mrs. Stuckey, walked over to me and worked her grandmotherly charm to get me to move. I stood firmly in the corner while the class stared at me with perplexed faces, and stubbornly refused her pleas to dance. Then Mrs. Stuckey uttered the right words to get me moving, “if you practice and dance in the recital, you will get a trophy!” That did it. I would get a trophy! No one ever did practice or perform a better bunny hop…

Fast forward to 3rd grade. Preschool was a huge miss for dance, but now I was convinced this was my calling! I was 10, in the double digits so practically an adult, and although my mother was wary from prior experience, she gave me the benefit of the doubt.

It wasn’t long into the class that I remembered I hated dance. More importantly, I realized why I was dancing—the costumes. I did, and still, love to dress-up.

I opted out of tap dance as I was still terrified of the slipperiness of the shoes and was convinced tapping would be my end. For ballet class I pretty much stared at myself in the mirror and twirled on my own volition. In the end, I only danced jazz and the best part of that was the hot pink leopard pants I got to wear.

This strange juxtaposition of attitudes toward dance, hate and love, fascination and rejection, persisted. On my way to basketball camp, my friends and I would count all the ballerinas that were walking to their studio, which was above the gym we practiced in. I loved basketball, but I envied them for their grace and tight buns  (hair, not derrier).

I was obsessed with the discipline, the way of life, the dancer habits. I wondered if they ate, if they dated boy dancers, and if they had time for anything other than dance. I romanticized about them and wondered how they could make something look so easy and pretty and twirl that much without regurgitating.

Fast forward again, this time to college. I had physical education credits to fill and dance was on the docket. I signed up. That class really changed things for me, not just in my view and appreciation of dance but in many other intangible ways. My professor, classmates, and the ballet itself served more than just a 3 credit course. I wasn’t at a great place in my life and I found support in an unexpected way through the people who plied and pirouetted with me.

My dance class from college in 2004 (sooo long ago). This was our final exam.

It was the first time I didn’t choose to dance for the costume. Which was especially significant since our costumes were quite ugly.

I took a few classes here and there since then. I choose my Halloween costumes based on whether a tutu can be factored in, never losing my affinity for the dressing-up or the idea of being a ballerina.

Me as Ariel and my Pirate, Halloween 2012.

2011 Costume, Princess Ballerina, with Kay-bear.

I won’t name names, but someone who is my boyfriend asked me a question about dancing (perhaps of a ballroom nature), and I began researching lessons he and I could take together that were couple-y. As I was looking, I thought it would be interesting to see if DC offered adult beginner ballet classes.

Not only was it offered, classes started the very next day for the 7-week enrollment! How convenient and spooky. Enrolled immediately.

I dance once or twice a week now; I am not overly graceful or exceptional—I don’t care to be. I just know that when I dance, I can’t stop smiling and I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Maybe my performances will be limited to my living room, but I’m happy to just twirl and twirl with all the grace of a wrecking ball.