Who knew activities could be more enjoyable by taking pressure off yourself?
The first time I did a plié, I wanted to die. Not in the literal sense. But in the “how did I not realize this was so hard?” sense. I was drenched in sweat and we hadn’t even gotten through warmups. Welcome to adult absolute beginner ballet.
I’d never taken ballet as a kid, and its reputation for gruff teachers and perfectionism really intimidated me, even as an adult. The image of a stern impossible to please teacher coupled with competitive classmates had kept me away my whole life. Like a lot of people from alcoholic families, I felt I should be an immediate expert in everything I did. Incompetency was dangerous. But I’d always wanted to try ballet, so when an acquaintance posted on Facebook that she was teaching a ballet class that started with the absolute baby basics, I gathered my courage and signed up.
That year, I’d been talking myself into doing new things, even if they scared me. Often I didn’t admit to myself how much they scared me and made up excuses not to do something: “I’m tired. I don’t really have time. I don’t feel like it.” Those are just some of the Adult Child of an Alcoholic excuses I throw at situations that, underneath my I’m-always-fine veneer, give me anxiety. And usually that anxiety is brought on by nothing more than the fact that I don’t know what to expect when I walk in the room.
But those thought patterns had made me miss out on a lot of experiences I’d genuinely wanted to have. I figured if nothing else this ballet class would be good exercise for a running-averse person like me. Mostly, I hoped it might help me have better posture.
And that’s how I found myself frantically googling “do you wear underwear under a leotard?” an hour before my first class. I was nervous about being judged, nervous about being seen, and nervous about taking up space. But there was no backing out now. I’d paid for the class in advance and bought the required ballet shoes, and if there’s one thing I refuse to waste, it’s a little bit of money.
As a child, whenever I’d tried any sort of organized movement, my body suddenly became unfamiliar territory. Choreography overwhelmed me; I tripped over myself, getting lost in the pace of the steps, and the feeling of being watched and evaluated made me self-conscious. I expected immediate perfection and when I didn’t deliver on that impossibility, l felt incredible shame and exposed as a fraud. I feared judgment and criticism and rightfully so. Doing anything that stood out at home meant opening myself up to potential criticism and sometimes ridicule. Making myself small, unseen, and unheard was my survival mechanism — and a successful one, at that. But after years of therapy and going to ACOA meetings, I’d finally learned to question that terrified doomsayer feeling.
So adult me ordered a leotard and ballet shoes and mentally prepared for my first class.
Find out what happened when she stepped out of the house and into her first beginner ballet class in the original article How a Beginner Ballet Class Strengthened My ACOA Recovery at The Fix.