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From Swan Lake to Rock 'n Roll... and back again.

I’ve been meaning to write blogs on at least three other topics, but once I saw “Black Swan,” I’ve become a woman obsessed.  I can’t think about anything else.  Never mind that this was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  Never mind that Natalie Portman gave the performance of her life (AND did all her own dancing!).  And never mind that I lost an entire night’s sleep because the movie was psychological torture.  All I can think about is that I want to be a ballerina again, complete with blistered feet, starvation diets, and long hours in dark, chilly dance studios.

In high school, especially the earlier years, I went to as many dance classes as my parents could afford.  I certainly wasn’t naturally talented, but I couldn’t get enough of it.  It felt amazing to dance, to move, to fly through the air, to push my body beyond its limits.  I always strived to be better, because I was never quite as technical as this girl, never as flexible as that girl.  Although I was best at modern dance, I preferred ballet.  The structure, discipline, and physical demands appealed to me.  I would proudly compare blisters with my classmates after a grueling pointe class and nurse my aching muscles with even more stretching.  We would talk about going to an elite ballet school someday.  That, of course, never came to fruition for me, partially because my practical parents did not allow that option, but mostly because I started to realize that I just didn’t have what it takes anyway.

My dancing career ended, or so I thought, with my college graduation.  A real-world job and a meager salary awaited me, so I thought I was done.  I still craved dance, though.  I lived just outside of New York City for three years, so I was able to see incredible performances from the companies I’d always read about in Dance Magazine.  After returning to Pennsylvania, I saw the movie “Save the Last Dance” with Julia Stiles.  Inspired by the movie, I found a studio in my town that had classes for adults and signed up for a hip-hop class.  I wasn’t done.  I was a dancer again!

Two years of classes, two years of performances for audiences and community events, two holidays of a jazz-version “Nutcracker,” and even two drag shows (yes, drag shows)…  I was in heaven!  I had regained my strength, and although I wasn’t taking any ballet classes, I would scour my memory for old ballet numbers and dance in my living room.

After two years, I decided to quit those hip-hop classes because I’d bought a house in a different town.  It would have been a 20-mile drive had I continued taking classes.  I justified it further by saying to myself that I’d had a satisfying experience, and I was ready to move on.  I was called for one final performance, which turned out to be the performance of a lifetime:  A paid rehearsal and performance for Neil Young’s “Greendale” tour which was coming through Scranton.  They needed local dancers for the stage show that accompanied his concert.  Each dancer would be paid $100.  I was about to become a professional!

That was an awesome day.  We had an all-day rehearsal in an open-air tent under a humid summer sun.  The choreography wasn’t difficult, naturally, but it was a lot of movement and it required theatrical ability in order to bring Neil Young’s lyrics to life.  The choreographer encouraged us to enjoy the performance rather than stressing over it.  We spent a lot of time with Russ Tamblyn, who was a production manager for the tour.  We had dinner in the catering tent.  And Neil Young himself came to rehearsal to speak to us, thank us, and encourage us.

The best part of all, though, was the crowd of 15,000 people.  Thus far, I had only experienced small audiences of a few hundred people, with their polite applause and decorum appropriate for a dance show.  Being on stage with 15,000 screams, shouts, and whistles coming from the crowd is a completely different feeling.  It’s a wall of sound that just hits you.  I realize they weren’t screaming for me, but it sure does sound different on stage than it does from the audience.

That was a decade ago, almost.  Now that my dance crave cycle has started again, what do I do about it?  Dance Central is good fun (and good exercise), but “Swan Lake” isn’t one of the song options.  I would love to go back to my old studio where I spent my teenage years and take a ballet class, but right now my financial situation will not permit that.  I also can’t forget that my body is ten years older.  Could I do pique turns or grand jetes anymore?  I suppose there’s only one way to find out.  I’ll never know until I try.  Again.

Even if my living room is the only place I can dance for the time being, I’ll be okay with that.  I realize that my desire to dance will never really leave me.  I can still sense what the movement feels like, and perhaps with a little discipline (and money) I will be able to do it again someday soon.  If not, how can I complain?  Although not quite “Swan Lake”, a Neil Young concert is a pretty good swan song.


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