I remember my first house in Atlanta, Georgia. Something-something-something Garden Grove Drive, with pine trees all over our front yard, towering over me like wooly mammoths. They created that “dappled day of delight” James Joyce wrote about, as sunbeams would creep down through the thick branches onto the bare lawn, all grass killed off by blankets of pine needles. I loved to lay on those fragrant blankets, wrapped up in the comfort of my childhood, which in my mind was perfect.
I don’t, however, remember what my mom said about my first signs of becoming a dancer. “You were bouncing in your high chair in perfect rhythm to the music playing on the radio, Jiffy.” I remember the high chair, vaguely, but the only memory that really sticks is that afternoon when my mom slapped me across the cheek for some reason. Don’t remember why. I think she felt sorry immediately afterwards, though. She loved me, I remember that much – I could feel it.
She also told me that she and my dad decided to put me in a ballet class after we’d moved to my second house, a beautiful 2-story brick job at 561 Battersea Drive. I loved that house. I. Loved. That. House. To this day, it holds some of my fondest memories. The problem is, I don’t think those memories are necessarily correct, or fond, if you look at it from different perspectives. More on that later.
Apparently, as soon as I started taking ballet classes, I brought my work home with me. My mom would put me in the bath tub at night, and when she needed to clean my undercarriage, I’d put my feet together in first position, bend my knees, and say “demi plié… and straighten!” Maybe I was making light of an awkward moment, but I’d like to think I was just in love with ballet from the moment I first stepped foot into a studio.
I do remember the studio itself. It was decent-sized, and the teachers were nice. The students were the same then as they are today. Some were really shy, some were really flexible (not me) and always doing splits to show off their awesomeness, and some were enthralled by the whole experience, making sure to obey the teacher, reveling in the music, and fairly bursting with excitement at the prospect of one day getting to wear pointe shoes and tutus (definitely me). I was hardcore from the get-go, and I was also, to put it nicely, an “old soul.” What I mean is, I took class seriously, and I did not like it when others were disobedient, messing around, wasting time – I was there to work hard (and have fun working), but if someone was getting in the way of my work, well, I wished they would quit or get kicked out… and I was probably around 5 years old.
I still feel that way to this day.
The thing that made ballet truly magical for me was the music. The MUSIC. Specifically, classical music. I grew up in a home with a piano teacher for a mom and a symphony-lover for a dad. Every night, they’d turn on the classical radio station in my bedroom to help me go to sleep. Every day, my mom would practice the piano herself (she could’ve gone pro, but didn’t have the fame bug) before starting piano lessons in the afternoon. I’d sit under the piano as she played Chopin exercises, and I’d fly around the house while she played Claire De Lune, draping myself on the banister in the hallway, leaping onto the mustard-colored sofa in the living room, and delicately winding my way around the fancy table and chairs in the dining room. It was pure magic to me. Ballet gave me the language with which to speak my physical joy at the sound of music.