It’s time to learn something new: When your dance shoes just don’t seem to fit



Every little girl dreams of being ballerina. At least that’s what they say. Or used to say. I may get slaughtered for saying that now, but the secret truth is, it was also a dream of mine. One of many. I just wanted to dance and feel the wind through my arms.

The reality is, though, I never got to try. Not once. Not ballet. Not tap. Not a class. Not even a dance shoe touched my foot. I just used to longingly look at my friends dance shoes and wish I could put them on and dance up into the clouds, my feet never stopping moving, never touching the ground. Flying high. Flying free.

But that was just a dream.

Or was it?

They say you have to start young. They say. But do you?

Is it ever really too late?

Around five summers ago, I signed up for a Summer of Sport hosted by my town. They were offering salsa classes, so I went along. It was the first time I had ever put some moves to music. I must have been doing something right, because the teacher asked me how long I had been dancing for. For some reason, I don’t remember, the conversation turned to ballet, and the next thing I know, September arrives and I find myself signing up for ballet classes! Go figure, I even passed the audition! I was so excited, I got myself ballet shoes and started an anonymous blog to record the adventure. Being on the heavier side of normal at the time, I fondly called it Whale Girl Does Ballet. It lasted all of three posts. My ballet career lasted just a few months longer before vanishing into oblivion. I guess I just couldn’t take looking at myself in the mirror that much! My ballet shoes were still pink around the toes.

I figured the dream was long gone, forever forgotten, but all of a sudden, just ten days ago, it popped its rosy head up again. Hello! I was very excited to find a ballet class that took complete beginners (yes, I still classified as a complete beginner), didn’t require you to sign up for the whole year, and basically didn’t mind you coming along as often or as rarely as took your fancy. Wonderful! This should work perfectly for me. I won’t have to feel guilty or like I’m giving up if I don’t show up for a week or two!

I dug my ballet shoes out of the depths of my closet.

They were still pink.

After ten days of pure excitement, yesterday I showed up for my first class. I knew nobody. Not one person. I waited to see what the other people were wearing before getting the pink shoes out of my bag. I put them on. And then as everyone started warming up and looking like they knew what they were doing, my excitement turned to panic and I froze against the wall. If I could have frozen myself into the wall I would have. Either that or make a quick exit. That door was just beckoning me to go through it.

Dance is a foreign language to me. A totally completely foreign language. Everything is new, everything is different, and there is nothing I can relate the new stimuli to. For learning to be truly effective, it needs to be constructive and constructed. And to build something, we know there needs to be, at the very minumum, a foundation. When it comes to dance, and in particular ballet, I don’t have even that. There is nothing there for the new information to stick to or build on, and so it just slides off and away, into infinity.

To say I felt out of my place would be an understatement. Also very exposed. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And yet, I want to learn it. I know the techniques can be excellent for building core strength and toning muscles beyond what you can do in regular fitness classes and weight training sessions. The level of control you can have in your body both fascinates and intrigues me. And I want to know more. It is as if with every tiny explanation the teacher gives, you get to discover another secret window into the inner workings of your body.

As someone who likes to be in control, and who exercises minute precision over everything I do, be it design, art, photography, writing, food, nutrition, and, of course, learning, in the middle of the dance floor I felt completely out of control. There was no control. And even less coordination. A simple foot routine had already lost me, add in simple hand movements and mine would be raised high in the air while everyone else’s had moved on long ago. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get the simplest of routines, only requiring the most basic hand movements and foot movements. I could feel eyes on me, hoping upon hope I wouldn’t be singled out for doing it wrong, while at the same time yearning for that flash of one-on-one time with the teacher where I would get another gem of insider information on why movements need to be carried out in certain ways and how a slight change in position can make the world of difference.

I love challenges and I love even more pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Yet this experience, not counting the pre-excitement, was mentally painful. Does that mean that ballet is just not for me? Do my dance shoes just not fit? Time will tell, though for some torturous reason, I guess, I am not giving up quite yet. In my experience as a learning engineer, and from what I know about the science and psychology of adult learning behaviour, it comes down to the fact I was completely lost and had nothing guide me, nothing to hold on to. Unable to relate to anything, I had nothing to build on.

You see, in life, be it teaching, learning, doing business, explaining new products, any context that requires sharing or transmitting information or knowledge, the facility to relate is crucial. As experts, we can take a lot of things for granted, and what may be common knowledge to us, most likely won’t be to the person or people in front of us. By quickly finding common ground and building on that up, our interlocutor will be able to relate to that information, build on it and subsequently use it effectively.

You see, when dance shoes don’t fit, it may not be because they are the wrong size. We may simply have not learnt yet how to tie them properly and make them fit for us!

And while it may be easy to say we are never too old to learn, are we really ever too old to learn? I have only to point you towards my wonderful grandmother. By day you will find her training down at the gym. By night you will find her on the dance floor leading the dance. Oh, and did she tell you her age? Only 97!!!

It’s time to learn something new! Let’s get on our dance shoes!

Dancing with the stars anyone?