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I wish I had. I regret not. Why didn’t I?
I’m not old yet, but I know lots of sentences that start like that. They tend to revolve around high school. I wish I had spent more time thinking about what I wanted, instead of what other people might want. I regret not telling people who I was or what mattered to me. All I ever said was a bunch of crap.
Sometimes the sentences get really specific. Why didn’t I go out for track my senior year? I had run hurdles for four years. I loved running the hurdles, winning a weird event that not very many people could even do. But I didn’t do it my last year in high school, the year I theoretically would have been at my best.
But more significantly, why didn’t I dance? I took ballet for about a year when I was in maybe third grade. I hated it. I quit and never gave it another thought until a dozen years later, when I was in college and needed to fill a physical education requirement. By some miracle I signed up for ballet, and I actually had a little talent for it. Furthermore, I actually liked it.
But, already 20, I thought I was too old. So for the next five years, I took step aerobics, rode my bike, hiked and occasionally thought to myself, “Too bad I didn’t stick with ballet.”
By 25, I was living in Boston, and sometimes, things that seem impossible in small towns seem perfectly plausible in big cities. For instance, it had never occurred to me that other 25-year-olds (and 30-year-olds, and even 45-year-olds) might share in my bizarre desire to wear leotards and do splits in the air. But then I found out one of my friends, a quirky graduate student at the University of Massachusetts who sometimes taught classes while standing on her desk, took adult ballet lessons.
“I don’t think I could stand it without ballet,” she told me, seemingly dumbfounded that I didn’t take adult ballet lessons.
So, I checked around and discovered several local studios offering beginning-level instruction to people of my advanced age. Then, I bought a ballet workout video, and danced alone in my living room for six months. Finally, I took a class.
And then hundreds more.
I’d found a voice.
Most adults eventually get past the insecurities that cause most of our “I wish I had”’s. While we might regret not overcoming them sooner, we’re happy with the way life is and don’t spend much time worrying about the way it was or wasn’t.
But my second chance is unusual. Most of us don’t actually get to DO what we wish we had done in high school.
I will never, for example, have a chance to repeat my senior year and run the hurdles. I can set up hurdles on the track and run them on my own, but that’s not the same thing at all.
Now, as I learned in Boston, lots of adults take dance classes. They pirouette and glissade and find out beautiful secrets about their souls.
But for me, just taking classes would ultimately be similar to setting up hurdles and running against an empty lane.
I love performing. Running in track meets was great – the starting guns, other runners’ feet stomping the track and kicking the hurdles next to me, people shouting in the stands. But hardly anything in life comes close to stepping out from the curtains, feeling the heat of the stage lights and dancing for an audience.
Not very many dance students, of any age, get to perform as often and in as great a variety of productions as we do in New Mexico Dance Theater’s Performance Company. But with NMDT, as with most non-professional companies, most of the lucky students are a lot younger than I am.
I dance with teenagers. I see them go through the ranks, moving from up from the corps to take the lead roles by the time they’re seniors. It’s exactly what I wish I could have done in high school. But I get to do it now.
A few years ago, I danced in the back line of the big group dances.
This weekend, I’ll be one of four Rose Fairies as well as the Sapphire Fairy in NMDT-PC’s “The Sleeping Beauty.”
It’s like I’m 17 years old again – but with one monumental exception.
Even during my solo, I’ll be sharing the stage with my unborn daughter. The two of us will be swaddled in many yards of a custom-made, sparkling blue maternity tutu, which, alone, should be worth the cost of admission. This will likely be my last ballet performance for some time and will definitely be my most memorable.
I don’t think it could be any better if I were a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.
And then afterward, I’ll look forward to a challenge I’m glad I never faced in high school.