First published on 20 Aug 2012. Updated on 20 Aug 2012.
What better way to enhance my appreciation of the art of dance than to step up myself in three consecutive dance classes?
Standing pathetically in shorts and socks in one of the airy dance studios in Walsh Bay, I can think of plenty of better ways. Even before class begins I’m forced to confront my physical inadequacy: all around are astonishing buttocks and flexuous bodies warming up and curling exquisitely. These are the ‘beginners’? I reach half-heartedly for my toes mainly to conceal a yawn. At this time of morning I’m just content to be vaguely upright.
Days prior, I’d asked Sydney Dance Company artistic director and Spring Dance
curator Rafael Bonachela for some advice. What words of encouragement would he give to a 28-year-old non-dancer making tentative steps onto the dancefloor?
“Greatness comes from being true to yourself,” Bonachela told me. “Focus on your good points and push them to the maximum then you will shine.”
Grasping tightly at the barre before Ballet class – ‘barre’ being the extent of ballet terminology I’ve picked up over the years – I struggle to come up with any good points. Even at this gentle pace, using the cracking and clicking of my own dodgy joints as a metronome, keeping rhythm is a problem. The bigger issue is my general gracelessness. While the others carve beautiful shapes in the air, shifting effortlessly from position to position, I sway, dip and lose my balance. At my most elegant I resemble one of those flailing-armed inflatable figures outside car dealerships.
The class culminates with a dozen beautiful bodies pirouetting majestically across the room – hotly pursued by a whirling wobbly jackass. The teacher keeps mentioning fondue but none is served.
Immediately heaving myself to the Contemporary class, I’m reassured to notice middle-aged, doubtless arthritic, participants – but the relief only lasts until the first extended routine. The fundamental difficulty is multi-tasking: Contemporary dance basically involves moving about like one of those cartoon butlers rescuing several falling objects from hitting the ground (only without the objects). I thrust my arms outward, tilt my head sideways, jut out my excuse for a backside while I extend one leg backwards, but what I really do of course is bump into walls and collide with fellow students and reminisce about the good old mono-limbed simplicity of the hokey pokey.
The steps become exponentially more demonic, the rat-a-tat of aspiring Fred Astaires in the adjacent room more irritating. Pretty soon I’m the one malfunctioning element in an otherwise extraordinary display of synchronisation and harmony. The instructor isn’t exactly sympathetic when I try to gracefully bow out (I believe his words are “You coward!”). At the end of hour three, ladies the other side of forty are whooshing past or, much worse, taking pity on me and offering encouragement.
Limping into my third class, Theatre Jazz, the good news is I’m not immediately forced to wear a top hat. The class lunges into some appropriately theatrical gymnastics – I land each leap across the room with an exhausted potato sack-thump – and then we take our places like Broadway stars ready for showtime.
Sure, I discovered I wasn’t suited for Ballet or Contemporary. But maybe my calling is musical theatre? The music kicks in and for one brief moment my spirits are lifted, my energies are restored, and I imagine I can feel the hitherto undiscovered burning desire to move within.
The sensation evaporates just as suddenly and I realise it was probably angina.
The studio is filled with the depressingly cheerful strains of the musical Hairspray. The lyric ‘you can’t stop the beat’ is sounding less like a celebration and more like a life sentence with every repetition.
We’re some way into the first verse when I catch a glimpse of myself, mid-hip-swivel, in one of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors: a vision of ineptitude in an otherwise enthusiastic and capable chorus line. If, as Rafael Bonachela says, greatness comes from being true to oneself, I may as well admit I don’t belong here. I take up my sneakers, exit the room and walk away as fast as my aching legs and two left feet can take me.
The relief is exhilarating. I’m sure there’s some beautiful non-verbal means of expressing the intensity of that feeling to you, but, frankly, I’m happy to leave that to the professionals.
Special thanks to Sydney Dance Company.