Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to sit down at a piano and just start playing the notes that come, rather than sit down to write words.
Press the keys of something that responds with a full, rich sound rather than a shallow clackety-clackety-clack.
I think this is a sign that I really miss dancing.
Tap dancing, old-school jazz and contemporary improv being my favourites.
One of my favourite things in dance school was to be able to be alone in a big room with mirrors, allow the music to flow over you, fill the entier room, and just let out whatever movement your body wished to express.
Y’know, like Beyoc in Halo, except I never looked pretty for the music video.
I was always dressed in worn, comfy sweats that were rolled, folded and layered to keep specific parts of my body warm. My legwarmers were full of holes and trailing dust.
My socks had grey, shiny footprints imprinted into them.
Too clean and they were too slippery. Too dirty and they was too much friction. With each pair of socks there was only ever a short window when they were just perfect and had just enough glide in them to allow for easy pirouetting.
My face was red and sweaty, rather than all made up and glowing. My hair – always in some awkward growing out phase – wildly escaping from where I’d tried to pin it down.
And I didn’t have anyone rudely spying on or interrupting my creative exploration session and superimposing a sexualised narrative on top of it. Not to mention, my gear smelling too much like old sweat for anyone to even want to come near me!
Dance like no one is watching was my motto.
And I did a lot of it. Sometimes I’d turn off the lights and dance in the near dark, leaving myself enough light to not bump into things.
When people first start dancing, they find constantly looking at themselves in the mirror uncomfortable.
But for a dancer the mirror is a tool.
You’re not judging your appearance, rather you’re using it to constantly asses your body’s lines, seeing how you stack your joints on top of each other, and evaluating the finer points in the execution of a movement.
I was used to using mirrors since I’d been riding horses from the age of five.
But now, those few mirrors in the corners of the arena seem paltry and inadequate.
Because after learning to use floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall mirrors as a tool for modifying my body’s movement and behavuour, how can those one-panel mirrors ever compare?
Of course, you’re going to say, that more important than what you see, is what you feel when you sit on the horse.
And you’re right about that.
Even as a dancer, the mirror is only a tool for practice – on stage you rely on your inner vision.
And to decrease your reliance on the mirror to perform, you start rehearsing your routines facing away from the mirror some weeks before you’re due to go on stage.
The most important skill a dancer has is the ability to see what’s going on inside her.
Be abel to look at her body as if she’s a puppeteer directing a puppet.
But the puppet is her own body and she’s intimately familiar with it. And she’s spent hours upon hours perfecting that control to the point where she can tweak the tilt of her head and the look in her eyes to perfectly express the emotion required by the dance.
One of the most fundamental mistakes I see people make, both when dancing with their own bodies and dancing together with a horse, is that they don’t breathe.
In classical ballet, we use the term ‘aplomb’ a little differently.
You’d usually use it to describe self-confidence or assurance in a demanding situation.
For dancers, it means that split-second moment between preparing your body for a jump and releasing the stored energy in your muscles to explode into the jump.
The technical definition for it is, “an unwavering stability maintained during a vertical pose or movement”, not that it tells you much.
It comes from French à plomb.
Which translates “according to the plummet”.
I could break down every single moment of a jump for you – believe me, there’s a hundred things running through your mind, from how you’re spine is aligned to how your feet are placed before the jump (and how they’ll land after) to how relaxed the muscles in your face are so that you can make it seem effortless by smiling joyously as you do it.
But why I want to single out the aplomb, is because it’s something we do naturally.
Right before we have to do something scary, there’s that intake of breath.
In dance, we simply learn how to make it a conscious act and harness it as a tool for lighter movement.
Once you learn how to use your aplomb correctly, filling your lungs with air like a hot air balloon in the split-second before you leave the ground, your jumps will start to defy gravity.
And once you’ve experienced jumping with the aid of the aplomb, jumping without it feels like a ton of bricks.
And once you know the difference between those two, your lungs turn into pumping bellows that never rest.
The result of which is continuous flow of air.
If you’ve spent any time around professional dancers at all, you’ll have noticed that we don’t care about looking or sounding stupid.
We’ll make all sorts of weird noises, from hissing to grunting and deep ‘haaaaaah’s because we know that the fastest way to warm up the body is to pump the bellows and push oxygen into the muscles.
Moving with breath makes your body flow like air.
And when your primary tool for making your body move is breath, it becomes like second nature.
I still find myself breathing in and out to a piece of music I’m listening to.
Not like singers do.
But as I would breathe through it in motion.
I really hope my ballet classes resume in the fall without a hitch because I miss them dearly.
And after we move, I intend to have enough space to dance at home. Yes, with floors that can handle tap dancing.
Because I want to dance.
I want to dance alone. And I want to dance with the horses that I will have.
And we’ll dance the days away together, in pure joy of the movement.
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