It wouldn’t have been predicted. As a kid, I grudged through formal-dance lessons, where the boys wished they were playing basketball and the girls wished the boys were taller. As a teen, at hops and proms, I shuffled; at college parties, I blended.
The first bug-bite may have been in college, kicking and stomping as a Dogpatch chorus member in Li’l Abner. And, after college, in Nigeria, I did a pretty good right-right, left-left Highlife, though really it was just walking with a slide-step, lubricated by Star Beer. Dancing, yes, but not exactly ballet.
As I turned 30, my wife and I were living briefly in New York City, thinking, Why not give ballet a try? So we found a small school, bought tights and slippers, took the subway to Union Square, climbed a dingy staircase, and entered a modest studio with a slightly uneven wood floor, a barre and mirrors, and a teacher perched on a stool, distributing helpful demonstration, occasional encouragement, and lots of cigarette smoke (the professional dancer’s weight-control program).
We learned the basics — the five different foot positions, pliés, leg lifts — and the hard truth that we would never achieve proper turnout or lift a leg much above knee level (to get a leg up onto the barre, a hand under the thigh sometimes helped). Still, it was fun and we persisted.
The lessons made us eager to see as much of the real stuff as we could afford. The Royal Ballet was in town, with prices way out of reach. But we got cheap seats for a rehearsal, and saw Fonteyn and Nureyev. Before our next class, in the men’s changing room, I mentioned our experience to a classmate. Ah, Nureyev, he said dreamily, what a beautiful ass!
After a few months, we left the City for Maine, but landed back in New York State a year later, in a small town that, incongruously, had a ballet teacher, a former dancer from Czechoslovakia.
I called her. You want to dance? she asked dubiously. Yes, I said, and casually mentioned my Big Apple experience. But, I have only one adult class. They are all womans. I told her I didn’t mind, and she said she’d ask them. They refused. They say that class is fun, she reported. Not worry about fat or clumsy. If you join, not so comfortable. But, I have class of teenage girls. If you want, I ask them. I agreed and, a few days later, I was in.
It was a little awkward, but we gradually got used to each other. At class some time later, our teacher announced that we would end the year with a recital in the high school auditorium. I would partner. And, she said, looking pointedly at me, for recital, no eyeglasses.
I can’t see without my glasses, I whined, forgetting for the moment the more fundamental issue — Recital? WHAT recital? But, I didn’t want to disappoint my classmates and, with much-simplified choreography and understanding partners, my fears of major droppage were assuaged.
The audience was mostly parents (theirs, undoubtedly suspicious of what some old guy was up to with their nubile daughters), with one spouse and one almost-three-year-old daughter (mine).
During our number, things were going well — no slips, no drops — when I thought I heard the sound of little running feet headed up the aisle, then the sound of larger running feet, then a voice: Daddy, Daddy. I want to dance with Daddy. I want to dance with Da’ …
It was fortunate I was dancing blind. Though I probably missed a step or two, we finished without further incident. Afterwards, with my glasses on, I hugged my ecstatic daughter and we danced a few steps.
There’s no YouTube record of my little girl running up the aisle to dance with Daddy. This is just as well since, if there were, there would probably also be a video of the recital, which is better left to the soft edges of fond memory. It was my last turn in tights, I say it was a triumph, and no one can contradict.