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Long-lost friend

March 3, 2019


The dancer leaps across the stage, and I know exactly how it feels.  I haven’t been to dance class–not regularly–in years, but I know the stretch of muscles–legs and arms reaching long, the angle of the head, the joy of the movements.  Is this a hint of what it’s like to have a phantom limb?  Pleasure and loss both in the vivid knowledge of what it’s like to move in a way I no longer can?

Which is probably why I’m here, in this unfamiliar studio three weeks later.  Periodic recurring dreams of being in dance class, the nagging refrain of “I should start again” running for months, and now this “phantom ability” that continues to ache in my heart.

I stand at the barre and compare its feel to all the other barres I’ve held in my lifetime.  It’s sturdy, good for gripping.  I’ll have to be careful not to let myself grab too tightly, though I’m ruefully expectant that I’ll be hanging on for more support than I’d like.

I’m apprehensive.  I’ve been to dance classes after a long break before.  I know I’m going to feel frustrated with all I can’t do, frustrated with how my movements look in the mirror, frustrated with my balance and extension and turn-out and stamina.  I know I may cry in the car on the drive home.

But it also feels right to be here.  The teacher shows the plie combination and I know the steps.  I’ve done them in Chicago, in South Hadley, in New Haven, Hamden, Damariscotia, Branford.

The piano music begins.  I breathe a slight lift into my arms, then curve them up and open, settling my left hand on the barre.  My knees bend in the familiar patterns–not as deeply as they once did, but a smile spreads over me anyway as my legs and arms and head coordinate themselves, as my 35 years of dance teachers coach me from the wings of my brain.

The next combination is tendus from first position.  The next, tendus from fifth, then degages.   My body sings with the music, translating the piano chords into motion.  I know this sequence of exercises, know the steps, know this language.

Ballet is my long-lost friend whom I’ve lost touch with, now sitting in my living room.  We pick up the conversation where we left off, sometimes needing to make adjustments to fill each other in on the years we’ve missed, but familiar and dear as ever.

In this unknown studio, surrounded by people I don’t know, I’m home.


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  1. What a beautiful post! I especially love this line- ”I know the steps.  I’ve done them in Chicago, in South Hadley, in New Haven, Hamden, Damariscotia, Branford.” The list is powerful and brings the meaning of dance in your life to the forefront. Good for you for reconnecting with your old friend!

  2. i love this. Your feelings about what you’ve been missing, your hesitancy about what you may not be able to do as well, yet returning to something you clearly love and need. Muscle memory is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it.

  3. There are some really beautiful images here. I particularly liked the phantom ache in your heart and your coaches in the wings. I’ve never been a dancer, but I love watching my own children dance now. I’m happy you’ve been reacquainted.

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