Let's Be Ballerinas!

(Gracefully demonstrating what I like to call the "sixth position." I'm sure ballet will be adopting it any day now..)

Two weeks ago, I had never taken a ballet class.  But since they say the ripe age of 27 is prime time to start, that is no longer the case.  A friend of mine has been taking ballet classes for a while now, and kindly invited me to tag along.  I accepted, giving the loud disclaimer that my entire knowledge of ballet comes from the movie, Center Stage, and then promptly consulted a ballet expert: the five-year-old girl I babysit.  She assumed the role of the no-nonsense instructor I recognized from the movie, and led me through all the positions.. first.. second.. yadi yadi yada..

But despite my intense training, I arrived at class and was quick to see that I was a kitchen-dancer in a room full of ballerinas.  For starters, I was wearing a beachy blue tank top and capri spandex with little socks.  Everyone else was in leotards, tights, and ballet slippers.  A few ever wore leg warmers, which further legitimized their status as ballerina in my mind.  Then class began.

I would repeat the many words the instructor called out to us over the piano music, but most of them were in French and I have no idea what they were, let alone mean.  So I just bounced up and down at the barre for an hour and a half, finding the fanciest-looking ballerinas and imitating their movements as best I could.  The instructor would occasionally come by and physically move my hips when repeating words in French didn’t have the desired effect on my posture.  At the end, the instructor closed class by saying “This is it.  There is nothing more.  It is just this [gestures to the barre], over and over and over.”  And while that’s maybe not the best way to end a class that you’re hoping people will return to, it’s what I think is so darn cool about ballet.  

There is only one way to become a ballerina.  And that is to drill the exercises everyday for a million (ish) years.  There are no shortcuts.  There are no born ballerinas.  It is an art that must be learned.  And once it is learned, the basics must be practiced until you have utter control over all 640 muscles in your body.  Only the most disciplined and well-trained will make it to the top.  

Other art forms are more forgiving in this regard.  Or at least, we artists like to think they are.  We like to think that energy and soul will make up for not training our voices.  And that enchanting lyrics and addictive Instagrams will outweigh our reckless guitar playing.  And to a certain degree, they might.  People will forgive certain shortcomings in search of something more important to them in music.  But I believe they would find the entire package more compelling if each piece was raised to a highly-trained level.  

When I was seventeen I got a guitar.  My uncle taught me how to play “Blackbird,” and to this day, it is the most complicated thing I know on guitar.  I never took lessons. I would just look up chords to songs I liked, and sing along.  I didn’t think I needed to be a great guitarist to sing and write songs, I just needed to be good enough.  Foolish child.  I wish I could travel back in time and give teenage Kat a smack on the head.  “Good enough??” I’d shout.  “You want a career playing guitar in front of people and you think you just have to be good enough??”  But teenage Kat would probably be too busy strumming a G chord and playing “Strawberry Wine” to care.

Although it's a touch late, my attitude has since changed.  Today I spent two and a half hours playing guitar to a metronome, slowing down songs I’ve been playing for years, cleaning them up, and then raising the tempo 2 beats-per-minute at a time, until they were back at the proper speed. I did the same thing with scales.  And I will do the same thing tomorrow.  Do I enjoy this?  Nope.  But I’m doing it anyway, because I have recently decided that if I’m going to dedicate my life to something, I’m going to be a freaking ballerina about it.  I’m going to do the basic exercises over and over and over until I have complete control.  I'm going to train myself in my field, very much like people in every other industry have been doing since forever (I repeat.. I'm a touch late).  And I would encourage all my artsy friends to do the same, because training will give us the skills and control we need to enhance our individual styles and make truly mesmerizing art.  So, go on!  Let’s be ballerinas!

Love Love Love,

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