Thursday, August 14, 2008
Ballet Class for Fatty
When you're young, you reach a point at which you start thinking about what you want to be when you grow up. Maybe you see dental x-rays full of cavities and decide to become a dentist. Or perhaps find a sick animal by the side of the road and dream of being a vet. These are usually half thought out pipe dreams and lead to nothing, but they are still fun to remember when you're almost 29 and sitting at your desk in your boring office job.
I wanted to be a ballet dancer in a pink leotard, with a long flat torso and legs like willow branches. It was 1984. I had just seen Flashdance.
Of course, when I had this dream at about five or so, I was short and lacking in coordination. Not to mention that we lived hundreds of miles from any sort of formal ballet training. I was far more likely to grow up to become a drunk and pregnant bull rider in a pink leotard.
My mom saw my interest in ballet as a perfect opportunity to get me involved in something and make a few friends. And, luckily, she knew someone who was getting ready to take advantage of the Flashdance craze and start giving tumbling, ballet, and tap lessons. So, I was signed up. Every Tuesday afternoon when the last bell rang, I was to walk downtown with my ballet buddy.
My mom and I went through the J.C. Penney's catalog and found a pink leotard and toe shoes. And, even though I was less enthusiastic about them, tap shoes as well. We bought tights and even ribbons for my hair. I'm sure I was the very vision of preciousness in my dance outfit.
And so dance class began. Imagine my horror, on the first day, when I learned that I was not supposed to wear underwear with my leotard. We had to go into a dark room in the back to change. No underwear? In front of the other girls? So I just subtly left my underwear on and just hoped that no one would notice.
Our teacher's name was Eileen. She was tall and thin with short blond hair. And I wanted her to like me and marvel over my skill. Unfortunately, I had no skill. I just liked to look at my pretty outfit in the mirror and walk around making lots of noise in my tap shoes. So, Eileen focused her attention on the other, more serious girls in the class and left me to my own devices. She was getting paid for my lessons either way.
I'd like to tell you that I'd found my ballet loving kindreds, and we all discovered the spirit of dance in that studio above the flower shop. But that was not meant to be. In short, I came to the realization, for the first time in my life, that I was fatter than the other girls. How did I know that? They told me.
We were all in line preparing to learn how to turn a cartwheel when one of the girls said to me, "Fat people to the back of the line." In that moment I thought, "Wait a minute. What? Fat? Who's fat? Me?"
I think at that moment I realized that I probably wasn't meant to be a dancer. And so I made the best of the rest of the dance classes by mincing around in my fancy outfit. But my heart was no longer in it. Plus, the lone boy in our class announced to everyone that I was wearing underwear with my leotard when we were exercising at the bar one day. The shame.
On the last day of class, as I waited for my dad to pick me up, I was standing outside in front of the building. Eileen had given us oatmeal raisin cookies for our last day celebration. I was going to save mine and eat it later at home. Of course, when you decide to do that, something always happens to it. I accidentally dropped it in the gutter. When my dad showed up, I was mad. I wouldn't tell him why.
Some of the other girls went back to class again the next year, although I know for a fact that none of them are dancers now. I'm sure that while they were tumbling away in their leotards, I was sitting at home watching Flashdance again. And thinking about becoming a welder.