By Lisa P.
I have always loved to dance. I have never taken formal dance lesson, but if I am at a party and there is dancing involved, I am both one of the first persons and one of the last persons on the dance floor. My dear spouse loves to dance too, but has a hard time keeping up with my desire to move. I end up feeling like a thoroughbred that stomps its feet in impatience to begin a race when I see folks out on the dance floor and I am not out there.
Given that interest, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that one of my bucket list items for either 2022 or 2023 was to take a ballet class. Ballet combines two of my great loves: dancing and being feminine. I know that there are male ballet dancers, but by and large my observation has been that male children take ballet because their mothers urge them to do it and male adults do not take up ballet as a new hobby. So, I stand by my conclusion that ballet has a feminine quality to it.
In any case, I have wanted to expand my female social horizons and so taking ballet was put on my bucket list. A month ago I decided that I didn’t need to wait until 2023, so I contacted a local ballet studio to inquire about classes. The full text of my request follows:
Do you have available on your faculty, or could you refer me to, someone who would teach adult beginner ballet on an individual basis? My reason for asking is that I am not your typical adult beginner student. I am transgender and believe that studying ballet would help improve my poise, confidence, balance and grace. I am older (mid-60’s) and have not had any dance lessons previously (although I am relatively athletic and flexible and love to “dance” informally). I feel that with these impediments starting one-on-one would not only give the teacher an opportunity to assess me, but it would also help me gain confidence as I learn the basics. My hope is that I would eventually be able to join a group class, assuming that would not cause any discomfort to the other members of the class.
Please let me know if you can help or if you have a referral for me.
I received a quick response indicating that individual classes were not offered due to space limitations, but that I was welcome to join one of the adult group classes. It was time to put on my big girl leotard and join other women in a dance class! I must admit to a lot of trepidation. The number of issues raised by this simple step were actually significant. For one, I had to tell my lovely, long-suffering wife that I needed yet another night available when I could slip out of and back in the house dressed as a female without her or our neighbors seeing me. She was annoyed at first (in that “what don’t you understand about “don’t ask/don’t tell” sort of way), but she relented when she realized how much it would mean to me. I also needed to acquire the dance apparel I thought would be necessary for this type of class: leotard, tights, skirt and ballet slippers. Amazon came to my rescue! I thought it was apropos that a website named after a group of powerful women (or the rainforest – you pick) would help get this badass transwoman appropriately decked out. It wasn’t cheap (about $65), but everything came quickly and fit perfectly. Another impediment to overcome was my own fear. I needed to screw up the courage to be a complete novice in an ongoing class with dancers running the spectrum from less to more advanced. Finally, I had to face the fact that the other class members were going to figure out I was transgender at the beginning or at some early point in the class – this effort definitely involved a “trans act of visibility.” It was going to be my first time trying to ride this particular horse, but I decided I was going to saddle ‘er up with confidence. Fortunately, I wasn’t thrown on my first ride, although the ride was not 100% smooth, as you will see!
I chose the day for my first class (a Monday) and arrived a few minutes late due to a service repairman who overstayed his welcome. That meant I was nervous about being late and forgot to bring water and….forgot my ballet slippers too. I remember setting them out on my bed, and I thought I had put them in my tote bag, but when I arrived at the studio, my slippers were nowhere in sight! Heavens. I was tempted to give up right then and there. Who needs more stress at a time like this! In any case, the owner of the studio (Judy) welcomed me as I stepped through the door. She asked me for my name and asked whether it was my first time. The fact that she didn’t recognize me as obviously the Lisa who had written to her came as a slight surprise. I thought she would see the transgender woman walk through the door and immediately associate the two of us. Only after I gave her my name did she say, “oh yes, we have been corresponding.” She was then gracious in showing me the restrooms, introducing me to the teacher, and finding me some ballet slippers to borrow. Phew – I was on the horse and we had cleared the first hurdle!
There were four other women in the class. A very nice woman named Annietia saw that I had no water and kindly offered me her extra bottle. What a sweet act of acceptance! As the class was an hour and a half long, I really needed that water and was very thankful for her generosity. Another woman who hailed from Down Under (Brisbane, Australia) was an accomplished dancer who had taken advanced ballet classes years before. She was kind enough to allow me to follow her steps. She was able to avoid being put off balance by my inability to mimic her well.
The class was exhausting, and I certainly exercised some muscles I didn’t know I had (particularly in my groin and inner thighs). I was “saddlesore,” but I had a ton of fun. I know I was smiling and laughing most of time, as I bungled my way through the class. The other two women pretty much ignored me, but they also ignored everyone else, so I chalked that up to insecurity regarding their own dancing and not to the realization they were in a class with a different kind of woman. The two new “friends” mentioned above, and the teacher, all urged me to come back. Annietia said, “please don’t be like the other women who come for one class and never come back again!” That was the second sweet thing she did for me in one evening. She made me feel welcome and I definitely wanted to return for another lesson simply to see her again. Soon it would be time to get back on that horse for another ride!
I forgot to take a photo after my first class, but I did take a photo as soon as I got home, after I stopped horsing around.
I returned two weeks later for my second class. I came home even more sore, but I met new class members. When I gave Annietia a fresh bottle of water to thank her for her prior gift, she smiled warmly, laughed lightly and gave me a big hug. Her continuing kindness was an outward expression that led to inner joy – her hug was just like giving my inner woman a big squeeze of approval! I was so overwhelmed, that I forgot (again) to have someone take my picture!
I returned for a third class after the second. It turned out to be the hardest one to date. I got there late (a neighbor almost caught me pulling out of my driveway in full ballet splendor!), and I ended up on the wrong side of the classroom, with my back to the teacher. It is hard enough to learn dance moves you have never done, but especially hard if you have to do it while twisting your neck around to see. At the end of the class the teacher had us doing a series of moves together across the dance floor. The moves are not that hard, unless you are named Lisa. But, while I did horribly in this part of the lesson during my prior two classes, during this particular class I did well enough that the other women all clapped for me. Apparently, an old horse really can be taught new tricks, as long as she is given a few carrots along the way! Another older woman in the class (don’t get me started on the twenty-something ballerina who could do all the moves beautifully and with style and grace!) who has been dancing ballet for years told me she had something for me. Debbie happened to be one of the women who I had thought was “ignoring” me during the previous two classes. She proved that she hadn’t been ignoring me, but simply minding her own business, because after class she gave me a ping pong ball and told me how to practice holding it so that I could learn the muscle memory for how I am supposed to hold my hands. Wasn’t that nice? She wasn’t being judgmental; she wasn’t trying to make a statement about me being a transwoman; she just wanted to help a person out who needed to learn a thing or two about ballet. Truly, that is all the acceptance any of us should expect. By the way, I did think about asking the teacher to take my photo this time, but I didn’t do it because I was so sweaty and tired that I knew the photo would be terrible.
Of course, I returned for more classes (five in total so far)! I made sure I was in the saddle facing forward for both of those classes and although they were hard for me, I managed fine. By the fourth class I had reverted to less formal wear, to fit in better with the other ladies, none of whom had been wearing dancewear consistently. I became a horse of a different color.
The final class of the Spring season included a substitute teacher named Courtney who is a recent college graduate. She provided her own unique instruction and was especially nice. She gave me some helpful pointers and expressed surprise when I told her that I was brand new to ballet (don’t you love a liar who is complimenting you with a sweet lie?). Since the school is taking a break during the summer, I asked Courtney at the end of the class to take my photo. Finally, you get to see Lisa prancing about in ballet class.
My semester-ending photo makes it very clear that I am a terrible ballet dancer and probably more mustang than mare. How did I manage, dear reader, to make my arms look like an orangutan’s arms? I assure you, however, that my vanity and my enthusiasm remain intact. I am trying to be patient, but I am stomping my feet in anticipation of what I will learn next semester.
“Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod.” (Shakespeare)