Last week Sunday I had a belated birthday party for my mom who turned 87. Her friends, who are all smart fun women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s have also become my dear friends over the past few years. They’ve watched me struggle with my mom’s decline, offering hugs, lunch dates, and stories from caring for their own parents. They’ve helped me tremendously. Being with them all and with my mom, singing songs and telling stories made me think of the importance of friends.
I met my best friend Abi in ballet class when we were 7 and 8 years old. Her Dad also taught at the University, like mine. She enjoyed my sense of humor and I liked her sense of adventure. We stood next to each other at the barre and when my teacher taught us to polka, Abi and I polkaed all over the room together, a whirling pair of giggling blondes. To this day we never pass up an opportunity to polka together. I recently helped her deliver her daughter—my god-daughter, which is what you get when you share years of tendus and tour jetes and the trials of toe shoes.
This past Tuesday was also the last weekend for the #GivingTuesday fundraiser we held for Liberated Movement, the non-profit, donation based dance studio where I teach an open level ballet class. My goal in teaching is not perfection. That is tough because dancers want perfection. Of course I hope my students get it right, become technically brilliant dancers, learn and grow, but I also want people to have fun, get joy from ballet and improve their sense of themselves in the world. Ballet is a long journey. Getting it right might not happen today or next week even. You need support from friends. You need someone who understands how awesome it is when you nailed the adagio or how frustrating it is when you have a bad turn day. Muggle friends are great too, but they don’t always understand the significance of landing a triple turn or what it means to not be on your leg. (Hint: Bring them to class!)
My dear friend Denise and I used to always take class together. We danced together in ballet companies in Hawaii and then we both moved to New York. I loved going across the floor with her, like we were in the corps de ballet again. I enjoyed matching our arms and timing—it made dancing more fun. Afterwards we’d get sushi or a juice and talk about class, our frustrations, and what we were working on. You need that when you take ballet class. Like life, it helps to share the struggles, otherwise you can get stuck in your head—that can still happen, but dance friends can help!
When I teach, I love when people bring their friends to class. It’s a beautiful thing when people meet in my class and become friends, or run into long lost dance friends they haven’t seen in years. When dancers who move well together dance across the floor together, I see their form improve. They dance better because they dance for each other.
I often have between 20-30 students in my class. The week before Thanksgiving I had 32 dancers working out pre-pie. One of my goals is to know everyone’s name in class. When I first started teaching, students were expected to go around and say their name aloud. I hate doing this myself, and did not want to inflict this on my students, so I decided instead that I would say everyone’s name. Now it’s become my ‘thing’. I think it’s nice to dance in a place where everyone knows your name.
When my mom was wheeled in the room last week and they all sang Happy Birthday to her, she was so touched! That afternoon they sang all the songs together in harmony, and my mom sang too—she knew every word. She hugged everyone and thanked them for coming. My mom may struggle with her memory, but she still has lots of friends. Throughout the week her friends and I all shared photos from the party and emails of thanks. “That was fun”, they said, “next time will you teach us a ballet class?”
If you like my blog, please “like” it. Please comment and tell me about the friends you dance with. You can even tell your friends about my blog or better yet, bring your friends to class. Ballet this month is all aboutNutcracker and the sounds of the season! Tuesdays 7-8 at 380 Broadway buzzer #5 and Saturdays 12-1:30. Only $10. Bring a friend!
If you missed our #GivingTuesday campaign, you can still donate to Liberated Movement and support the cause of affordable dance classes in New York City. Donate here.