Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Like Riding a Bicycle

Normally, I'd think of having a ballet class with Carol as a special treat. Suki's my usual ballet teacher, but I took modern dance one semester and ballet one semester with Carol, who teaches at the college and at the ballet academy.

But today was the first day back to ballet after a 3-week hiatus, and I was having trouble keeping up with Carol's very brainy class!

Normally in her classes, Carol gives very intricate exercises: barre exercises with fast footwork and quick portes des bras (arm moves). Lots of counting necessary. Her center floor stuff is similar, and she also makes you not only do each combination to each direction (to the left and to the right), but she makes you reverse each one, too. So whatever you do to the front, this time you do to the back, etc. etc.

It's a great challenge for the body and the brain!

But today was the first day back to ballet after a 3-week hiatus, and I was having trouble keeping up.

My body felt like there were gaps between my joints, like everything was loose and sloppy. Once my brain finally understood an exercise, my body was WAY slow to follow. I was thinking that if I'd had today's class a few weeks ago, right after the recital, I'd have been in good enough shape to get something out of the challenge.

Kind of like the way I felt Saturday when Ms. Pryor asked me to try breaking two boards with a jump reverse kick. I was ready to do it at the test, but by the Saturday a week later, enough of my edge was gone that I wasn't ready to do it.

People talk about different physical activities as becoming physically ingrained the more you do them. For example, doing ballet. The way you stand becomes "body memory" and you no longer really have to think about turning out from the hips or tucking your pelvis: you just do.

I believe in that, sort of.

When I came back to ballet at age 40, after not having taken dance since I was in college, it was not an alien activity. "You've taken dance before," was the comment I heard. Some things just come right back, once you're in the right environment, with the right promptings.

Still. I am always amazed at how much one can lose after being away from an activity--like TKD, like ballet--even for a short time. Like a week. Or three weeks.

What does one lose? I'm not really sure. You get that loose feeling in the joints. You lose muscle tone. You lose fitness (pant pant! puff puff!).

When I come back to TKD or ballet after a break, I am reminded, often fiercely, of my own mortality. That however hard I work out, however strenuously I train, however well I do a pirouette or a jump reverse kick, my abililty has an ephemeral quality to it. Without practice, it fades, like a suntan in September.

This is good for me to remember. Sometimes I feel mighty proud of myself for reaching the level of fitness and ability I've reached. And me a former unatletic wimp! But I must remember that it's fleeting, it can pass, my ability can wane, and maybe will as I age, or as I get busy or the focus of my life changes. Or if I get ill.

I guess the"riding a bicycle" metaphor has its limits. I may remember how to ride that bicycle after not riding for a while, but I'm always going to need to practice again before I ride very far or with much style and grace.

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