Don’t Follow Me

When I was about eight years old, my mom used to have a plain white T-shirt that had a print of a little cartoon elephant with a flower in its trunk and the words «FOLLOW ME». This would be a hilarious thing to wear to dance class, not least because of the elephant. But only if you’re confident enough to have people follow you.

We did a little pirouette combination during center in ballet class last Thursday. It went something like tombé, pas de bourrée, plié in fourth, relevé, plié again and then either a passé or an attempted pirouette. The reason I still remember that is that our usually so sweet and kind teacher sweetly and kindly insisted that we actually do it ourselves for once.

We don’t like doing things ourselves. The question «Can you do this without me?» invariably turns the whole class into statues. I’m pretty sure we stop breathing, too. Sometimes, the teacher takes pity on us. Other times, she lets us struggle for a while but jumps in later to prevent complete disintegration. This time, the combination was fairly simple and there was a more advanced girl there who could do it quite well, so I followed her.

I even landed a pirouette once or twice. It probably didn’t look too elegant, but at least I didn’t wobble around and scramble for the finishing arabesque par terre. I even remembered to spot, since some kind soul used tape and red lip stick to draw actual spots in two corners of the studio. Thus emboldened, I ended up in front of the group for the next repetition.

It went surprisingly well. We had practiced the combination a dozen times by that point. I enjoy turns even if I do them badly, and I enjoy being in front with no one to follow, because it will really make me concentrate and think for myself. I aced it. I was even in time with the music. I aced it almost all the way across the studio and up to the point I heard the teacher say somewhere behind me «You can follow her, she’s doing it well.»

So of course in the moment I spent contemplating whether she actually meant me and how proud I was allowed to be now, I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing.

A T-shirt with an elephant on it might be entirely appropriate for the grace and lightness I feel in ballet class, but the words «FOLLOW ME» will have to wait.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Follow Me

  1. “I aced it almost all the way across the studio and up to the point I heard the teacher say somewhere behind me «You can follow her, she’s doing it well.»”

    This sounds so familiar! I’ve come to dread the moments when one of my instructors shouts, “Yes, sir!” or “Good!” – because it’s like every bone and nerve and muscle fiber in my body immediately forgets how to dance whenever that happens.

    Way to go, by the way, on getting the pirouette combination down and on the music — and on being brave enough to go in the front. That’s a great thing.

    In all honesty I think 9/10ths of what we call “confidence” in dance is just knowing that you’re going to screw up sometimes and still not being afraid to get out there. It sounds like you’re well on your way to mastering that aspect of ballet as well!

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  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I wonder why that happens. Is it a lapse in concentration? Or maybe the brain momentarily overanalyses what the body is doing, like when you start walking funny if you think too hard about how walking works? What is your theory?
    Thank you for the compliment! I guess this is my one natural gift relevant to dancing – not being ashamed or afraid to do it. But I usually struggle to remember the combinations in ballet for some reason. Jazz is much easier. This one was the first I managed, I think!

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  3. That’s a good question! My hypothesis is that it’s a combination of a momentary lapse in concentration with the overanalysis part (possibly mediated by the drive to recreate whatever was successful). There’s a topic for a PhD dissertation! 😀

    You’re most welcome! I think that’s probably the best gift to have in dance, since most else everything can be learned.

    Funny you mention jazz combinations being easier for you to remember — I’ve been contemplating a similar phenomenon. Ballet combos are easiest for me; modern combos are much harder, but I think in my case at least it’s a question of exposure. I’ve been doing ballet a lot longer, so the vocabulary is better established. Did you start jazz before ballet, at the same time, or after? I’m really curious about these patterns in dance learning.

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  4. A PhD in dance? Sign me up! 😀
    I started jazz about four months before ballet, *but* I used to do a little ballet as a kid. I struggle less to keep my knees straight, my feet turned out and my toes pointed than my peers who started as adults. The combinations are a complete mystery though. It might be due to the vocabulary, which I had thoroughly forgotten and am now re-learning. I think it’s a sort of translation error in ballet, since I always try to remember the names of the movements and the number of times we do them. Since I haven’t been doing it that long, it takes me more time to translate the words into movement. In jazz and hiphop, not all steps have names (or the teachers just don’t tell us!), and so I remember the movement directly. Does that make sense?
    I really enjoy ballet, because it is just so hard physically *and* you have to think and concentrate as well *and* the progress is really slow even if you do. Ballet accomplishments feel so much more accomplished. 😀

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