It is once again time for me to take stock of "things I think I should do" vs "things I want to do" vs "things I will actually do", a tripartite Venn diagram which often involves very little intersection.

I have been taking a barre class on and off for the past several months, because if I'm going to pretend I'm a real dancer now, I should probably do dancer things. It's not been going great. I've generally assumed it's because I have no idea what I'm doing. My overall strength and fitness is fine, but I don't know most of the ballet vocabulary (speaking actual French is useless most of the time), and even English phrases like 'don't drop into your knees' mean nothing to me. I've been trying my best anyway.

The last time I failed at something, I assumed that I just wasn't good at that particular ballet whatzit, and commented that I'd just go off and do the thing until it stopped hurting to do it.

"Hahaha, well..." says the instructor.


I've been operating under the assumption that if I did these things enough, they would eventually stop being painful. Effort is fine; I can deal with sweat. But I thought the point was to work until the things that hurt only took effort, and didn't hurt anymore. Stretching works like that. The more you stretch, the more you can stretch, and eventually it just feels like unkinking things instead of trying to push limits.

There are only three reasons to take up a hobby that you know damn well will be painful each and every time.

  1. You want to achieve a goal so badly you don't care that it hurts.
  2. You enjoy the activity so much you don't notice that it hurts.
  3. You want to see how much hurting you can endure, and you're looking for a socially acceptable way to do it.
Ballet is an intensely athletic activity. I am duly impressed by people who do it well. It is not a look I like on me. Balletic styles are very sharply gendered. I adamantly, defiantly have mass and take up space, which is exactly the opposite of what you're going for in the feminine version of ballet. The masculine version involves more power moves like leaps and jumps, which is somewhat more appealing. I'm sure there exists an instructor somewhere who would be willing to teach that to me, but they do not work at the studio where I get free classes.

I enjoy neither the process of learning nor the process of performing ballet. Ballet pedagogy is very linear and rigid, and meshes poorly with my propensity for learning things sideways and out of order. The class feels like an endless series of petty corrections towards a goal I do not care about in the first place. Depending on what kind of day I'm having, sometimes flamenco class is an endless series of corrections, too, but that feels like it has a point -- when I get a flamenco sequence right, it feels like I've done something dramatic or graceful or otherwise intentionally aesthetic.

The barre instructor very kindly took time out of her day to painstakingly tweak my form until I was at least doing one of the exercises properly. My only reaction, which I voiced, was, "That feels bizarre." Ballet feels bizarre. On the rare occasion I get something right, I do not feel comfortable, or beautiful, or even accomplished. It is not, in any way, fun.

As for the third thing, I hurt enough as it is. My tolerance for pain and discomfort is so stupid high I once had a doctor politely remind me that I am allowed to call 911 when things go wrong, with the implication that I probably should have done that instead of just lying down and waiting for the meds to wear off. Testing my endurance is pointless, because anyone with a lick of sense would call off the test way before I cried uncle. 

It sometimes takes me far too long to recognize when I'm trying to do things the 'normal' way just because it's 'normal' and just for once I don't want to be a goddamn alien. The barre class wasn't useless -- I learned a fair amount about mechanics and have some good balance exercises to do now when I'm bored and waiting for my pasta water to boil. But I think if I keep trying to succeed the way I'm "supposed" to I'm going to run myself into the ground. 

I think I'm going to stick with modern dance, where the only criterion for success is, "Did that look the way you wanted it to?" 


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