The other day I found a Groupon for ten barre fitness classes at a studio near my new Minneapolis apartment. From what I understood, barre was a ballet-inspired workout incorporating barre exercises, pilates, yoga, and simple dance choreography. I have a soft-spot for choreographed dancing, and there’s a part of me that has always wanted to be a dancer. Plus, I love a bargain. So I bought the Groupon.
On Tuesday, I went to my first barre class and was slightly disappointed when it turned out to be mostly a glorified group exercise class — doing the same old exercises I’ve done a million times in my adult life. Sure, we did some pliés (okay, a lot of pliés), but otherwise it was your basic “body sculpt” class with some light weight-lifting, floor exercises that I call “Jane Fondas,” and a series of crunches.
When I got home, my fiancé asked me how the class went.
“It was ok,” I said. “A little disappointing, though. It only made me feel like a ballerina about ten percent of the time.”
“You’re basing your assessment of the class on how much it made you feel like a ballerina?” Paul asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes I am.”
Today I finished working through a second round of revisions on my novel, courtesy of my agent.
I always thought that when I got a literary agent I would finally feel like a writer. And about ten percent of the time I do — like when I get an email from Alex chock full of edits and revisions (I love these emails because it means we’re making the book better), or when I say things like, “yeah, I’m working on revisions from my agent.”
But most of the time, I’m just doing the same old things I’ve been doing for years: writing, rewriting, staring at a blank screen, getting excited about new ideas, getting worried when I don’t have any new ideas, procrastinating, etc. All through my twenties, I wondered when I was going to start feeling like an adult, and ever since I graduated with my MFA in 2009, I’ve been wondering when I’ll start feeling like a writer.
After my barre class, which left me sweaty and aching, I thought of a line from one of my favorite YA books, Callie’s Way by Ruth Wallace-Brodeur: “The ballet hall smelled of sweat. The dancers looked like fragile flowers only when they were dressed for a performance.”
I’ve never taken a ballet class in my life, and so perhaps my notion of what it’s like to be a ballerina is skewed by what I’ve seen in movies (Save the Last Dance, Center Stage) or read about in books. I imagine lithe girls in black leotards at a bar, stretching their arms and legs gracefully, looking like a Degas painting, while a French woman with a severe bun shouts out commands.
But maybe the day in and day out routine of being a ballet dancer isn’t all that glamorous. It’s just the same exercises at the barre, helping the dancers build up strength and flexibility and balance.
Maybe the day in and day out routine of being a writer isn’t all that glamorous either. It’s just the same exercises at the computer, each day building up a store of creative and motivational strength.
Maybe you really feel like a ballerina during the performance. Maybe you really feel like a writer when you hold your published book in your hand. But most of the time, you just feel like you, working hard at the same old thing.