Sara Dobbie ~ The Art of Learning to Dance

1. When you are a small child tell every­one in your fam­i­ly that you absolute­ly must have a pair of tap shoes, because the mag­i­cal click­ing sound you heard when you watched Singin’ in the Rain filled you with a great pas­sion that you don’t ful­ly under­stand yet. Demonstrate your raw tal­ent by mim­ic­k­ing the move­ments you mem­o­rized, every flu­id motion, every wide-eyed grin. Do this in the kitchen, in the bath­room, out­side on the square patio stones. Do it in front of your par­ents, your grand­par­ents, and your aunts and uncles, any­one who will pay atten­tion, even if it’s only for a minute or two.

2. Ignore them when they pat you on the head and tell you you’re cute or sil­ly or annoy­ing. If you are per­sis­tent, they will give in even­tu­al­ly, or at least that’s what you need to believe to keep your dream alive. Even if the shoes nev­er arrive in the form of a birth­day present or Christmas sur­prise, there is noth­ing stop­ping you from prac­tic­ing in front of every mir­ror in the house. Look at pic­tures of bal­leri­nas in a book at the library, and study their stance, their form. Do fifty plies each morn­ing when you wake up, and fifty more every night before you go to sleep. Always remem­ber to stretch thor­ough­ly so you can land in the splits when your big break final­ly occurs.

3. When you real­ize that your par­ents can’t afford to put you in dance lessons, stop bring­ing it up because you cer­tain­ly don’t want to make them feel bad. Watch Fame reruns on tele­vi­sion to absorb every nuance you can, but only prac­tice your moves in your bed­room when no one else is around. At school, act like you don’t care when the oth­er girls talk about their upcom­ing recital or describe their gor­geous, sparkling cos­tumes in great detail. They don’t know how bad­ly you want to be one of them, and you need to keep it that way.

4. If two of your sev­enth-grade class­mates ask you to be a back-up dancer in their act for the school tal­ent show, say sure, why not, because this way you can learn some new tech­niques from them dur­ing rehearsals, and also acquire some real expe­ri­ence per­form­ing. They will make snide com­ments about your lack of knowl­edge and/or tal­ent, but take it in stride and give it every­thing you’ve got. If you vom­it five min­utes before the MC calls your group’s name, don’t sweat it because as they say, the show must go on.

5. In high school, join the cheer­lead­ing team. It’s not exact­ly danc­ing but it’s free and it’s phys­i­cal and requires some sim­i­lar skills. The girls will be cat­ty and some­times mean. The guys that vol­un­teer to do the lifts will only be in it for cheap feels, but this will tough­en you up and aid in adapt­ing your sen­si­tive brain to the com­pet­i­tive world. You may devel­op body dys­mor­phia and pos­si­bly an eat­ing dis­or­der — it comes with the ter­ri­to­ry. You’ll quit the team even­tu­al­ly, after a year at best, but you will pick up some valu­able lessons about team­work and good pos­ture and how to lose a quick five pounds in a pinch.

6. The sum­mer after grad­u­a­tion go to see a pro­fes­sion­al per­for­mance of Swan Lake in which your best friend’s old­er sis­ter dances the part of Odette. Cry silent­ly dur­ing the entire thing, because the grace and beau­ty of the pro­duc­tion will, quite frankly, com­plete­ly over­whelm you. Push away thoughts about how it could’ve been you up there if only this or if only that. Not every­thing is about you! The soon­er you accept this the better.

7. In your twen­ties, con­vince your­self that danc­ing is point­less. If you go to a club or a par­ty, sit in a dark cor­ner and avoid talk­ing about your own inter­ests. Over the years, this will get eas­i­er, and even­tu­al­ly become sec­ond nature. The occa­sion­al con­ga line at a wed­ding is per­mis­si­ble, but don’t let your­self get car­ried away, because you will regret look­ing fool­ish when you think about it in the days to come. Accept your des­tiny, embrace the facts and if you find your mind obsess­ing over fan­tasies in which you are Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, be sure to mon­i­tor them so they don’t get out of control.

8. Over the next decade you’ll be too busy rais­ing a fam­i­ly to think about triv­ial mat­ters like jazz or tap or bal­let. Even so, be sure to enroll your daugh­ter at the local dance acad­e­my and feel a strange mix of dis­ap­point­ment and relief when she tells you she doesn’t like it. Sleep well know­ing that you pro­vid­ed her with the oppor­tu­ni­ty, and secret­ly thank your lucky stars that you don’t need to get a sec­ond job to sup­port such a wild­ly expen­sive hobby.

9. By the time you reach your for­ties, you may be mature enough to real­ize that some­times, it can be about you, and that you can, in fact, do what­ev­er you want. Google bal­let lessons for adults but brace your­self because they are pos­si­bly more expen­sive than the ones for chil­dren. Conduct more research to dis­cov­er that barre class­es are free on YouTube, and all you need is a yoga mat and a chair. Briefly con­sid­er how dif­fer­ent your life would have been if the inter­net exist­ed in the eight­ies but do remem­ber that there’s no sense in dwelling on the past.

10. Lock your­self in your bed­room to prac­tice just as you did when you were a young girl, but rest assured that by now you enter­tain no illu­sions or delu­sions of grandeur. Try to be com­fort­able with your body, to appre­ci­ate your reflec­tion, and you will expe­ri­ence an epiphany of sorts. Increase your self-esteem, tone your thighs but don’t expect your abs to coöper­ate, that ship has sailed. Note that abs don’t mat­ter. If you med­i­tate every day, breathe deeply, and clear your mind of neg­a­tiv­i­ty, you may well find the joy in learn­ing to dance for no oth­er rea­son than because you love doing it.

Sara Dobbie is a writer from Southern Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in Bending Genres, Ligeia Magazine, Ghost Parachute, Flash Frog, Sledgehammer Lit and else­where. Her fic­tion col­lec­tion Flight Instinct is forth­com­ing from ELJ Editions in 2022, and her sto­ries have been nom­i­nat­ed for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Follow her on Twitter at @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites