August 16, 2012

Pen on Paper, Foot on Floor

That's me, first day of school.

Looking back to my first day of school, it was not unlike switching from improvised contemporary dance to the discipline of a formal ballet class. But at least for me, school was not the end of freedom. I would roam about Berlin, climbing trees and ignoring fences - and then I would sit still in class, eager to learn and observe. I took to school like I would later take to ballet class.

Back in elementary school, we had classes for handwriting. My generation (and now I feel old for saying it) was still taught looped cursive, which has since become somewhat old-fashioned. We were given specially lined notebooks with three parallel lines for each row instead of a single line. Writing by hand, with ink, took a lot of disciplined practice. It requires hand-eye coordination, dexterity and developing a feel for the paper and pen connection. How much pressure to apply, which way to swing the tip so that ronds de main turn into o's and a's on paper. It was all about getting into the flow.

These days I mostly use keyboards instead of pencils. Compared to the elegant port de bras of cursive handwriting, it is all staccato and petit allegro. But the disciplined practice has not disappeared. Instead of a paper and pen, it has simply changed into feet and a floor. O's have become ronds de jambe, T's and I's degagés and piqués the dots on my i's. It is still a matter of flow, how to caress the floor and present your text/self. Music and choreography provide the framework, the lines in which to move. Letters become words, steps turn into dance. The blank page turns into space, waiting for us to write our stories. And just like our handwriting, each dance and dancer is unique.

I remember when I learned to read, how letters shaped into words that all of a sudden started making sense. It felt like something wonderful had been un-locked. All those words and books and new worlds for me to grasp and make my own! I'm no longer that eager, tree-climbing first-grader, but I'm still a student. Instead of a backpack for books, I carry a bag for my pointe shoes. Learning about arabesques, ballonés and cabrioles has not been unlike learning my ABC's. Ballet class gives me that same feeling of constant discovery and marvel.

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