I wrote my first essay on ballet after my second ballet lesson. I have now been taking ballet for a little over three months – once a week. I am still enjoying it tremendously and look forward to Monday evenings. During the lesson this week, I was thinking about how learning ballet is like learning a new language. They say that there are some activities that help keep your brain active and flexible as you are aging and that one of those activities is learning a new language. So as I do my ballet lessons, I am not only exercising my body, I am also exercising my mind. And both body and mind are getting a really good workout.
I am most keenly aware of my mind as we learn new steps. Last week we tried “sashay” a simple step really, where you move one foot to the side and then replace it with the other foot and just sort of slide along the floor sideways. It’s a move that all kids do and one I had done frequently and easily when I was a child. The teacher made it look so easy and fun, but when I tried it in class, I felt like a cow. I must have had a pained look on my face, because the teacher asked me if it hurt my hip to do this move. It wasn’t my hip that hurt, it was my pride. Why couldn’t I do this step that I used to do so easily? My body had forgotten how to do it and that was frustrating. So she faced me, took my hands and slowly did the step with me until I could do it – until my body and my brain remembered how to do it.
I also notice my mind really struggling when we do steps that require my feet and legs to do one series of movements while my arms and upper body are doing their own movements. Putting that all together is a strain on my brain. I can feel my brain trying to be the command center sending out orders to my legs and different orders to my arms – sometimes the orders get confused and sometimes the command center just shuts down altogether. Luckily the command center has a pretty good sense of humor and usually just laughs at the mess it has made. But the interesting thing is that a step that totally confounds me one week, will be slightly easier the next. So the first week, I can’t really do it at all. The second week – I can do it, but only when we do it slowly and repetitively. By the third week I can usually do it correctly (most of the time) and in time with the music, if I concentrate really hard. And by the fourth week, I can do it without thinking too much. In the subsequent weeks, I feel that my movements get more relaxed and fluid. If someone were watching me, they might suspect that I am doing something approaching ballet.
We probably do 20 or 25 different steps or combinations in any one class, some new and some not so new, some I can do and some I am just learning. So my brain doesn’t get much of a rest in class, because the teacher is always introducing new steps and new combinations. But both my brain and my body feel great after class – well exercised and ready to relax. I usually sleep really well on Monday nights!