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.