September 3, 2014

Reconnecting With My Childhood Passion

Lately, I feel like I’ve been hearing the same advice over and over about discovering what you’re “meant to do”: think back to when you were a kid, and rely on the instincts you had then. In fact, on Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness podcast (which I love and you should start listening to), he gets even more specific: think back to when you were 14-16 years old. That’s the time of your life when you’re mature enough to make good decisions, and yet young enough to go after your passions rather than feeling constrained by rules and what you “should” do. So, what did you love to do then?

I was really different when I was a teenager. I mean I guess in some ways I was the same – nerdy but outgoing, loved to read and play on the computer. (Though back then, going online meant time playing Slingo, reading “zines”, or geeking out on The Site Fights… anyone else do those?) However, today I spend a lot of my free time doing all kinds of fitness activities – running, hiking, biking, or group exercise classes. Back then, gym class was my least favorite part of the schoolday, and you would have never caught me playing afterschool sports. I was always in the choir room, the auditorium, or… the ballet studio.

Me as a clown and then as a party child in the Nutcracker. Over the years, I also got to play a soldier, a mouse, and Clara.

I started taking dance classes when I was 4; my mom signed me up for all kinds of activities to see what stuck. We ruled out all sports pretty quickly except for gymnastics, but I quickly picked danced over gymnastics once those started to conflict mid-elementary school. I ended up taking ballet classes pretty seriously until I was 14, at which point two things happened.

First, my body finally hit puberty; instead of having the body of a lithe and lean ballerina, I ended up with a curvy body that was more like a different kind of dancer (one that I did not want to be!). Around the same time, I was cast in a LORT-B production of A Christmas Carol, which rehearsed 10 hours a day on weekends and 5 hours a night on weekdays (with Mondays off) – then had a nine show per week performance schedule for six weeks. I was thrilled to do the show, but in order to make that schedule, I had to cut back my ballet classes from ten per week to just one on Monday nights.

I have always had kind of a black-and-white, all-or-nothing attitude toward many things in life – even though I know I really should try to be more flexible. But as soon as I cut back to one ballet class per week, I started taking it a lot less seriously. After the show, I ended up switching studios to one that was a little less intense, and then taking only a few classes per week so that I could focus more on theater. And then after I graduated high school, I gave ballet up entirely. (And after freshman year of the drama program at NYU, I pretty much gave theater up entirely… but that’s a different story.) So when I thought back to when I was 14 and what I loved to do then, ballet came to mind. I loved ballet, and I was actually pretty good at it.

But that was 15 years ago, and I was kind of worried about heading back to the barre now. My body has changed a lot since then, and I didn’t know how comfortable I’d be hanging out (literally) in a leotard and tights. Speaking of which, I had no idea how exactly I was supposed to keep my chest supported, since I had never seen anyone wear a sports bra under a leotard. I settled for doubling up my regular leotard with a thin flesh-colored leotard underneath, which was what I had done sometimes in high school. It wasn’t all that terrible of a solution.

After checking out the websites of a lot of different dance schools in North Denver/Boulder, I settled on the Boulder Ballet School, mostly because they offered a ton of drop-in classes for adults only. I figured I’d be a lot more comfortable with others my age instead of next to a tiny 9 year old bunhead with perfect form! I was really nervous to go to my first class, but after some encouragement from my friend Adam, I donned my leotard and tights and figured I’d go for it. What did I have to lose?

First Day of Ballet
Don’t worry, I did have actual ballet shoes on during the class, and I also took off all the “junk” once I was warmed up.

As it turned out, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was surprised how quickly all the steps came back to me; some of the combinations even seemed familiar! (Any former dancers in the upstate New York area remember “glissade, assemblé, changement, changement” from SPAC auditions? We did that tonight!) But the things I had forgotten were just how great ballet is for me outside of the studio… and I’m not talking about staying in shape.

For example, I had forgotten how, when the teacher is telling you the combination, you need to focus every ounce of your attention on learning it. There were a lot of times tonight when I found my mind wandering to other things (hmm, what should I make for dinner tonight?)… and I paid the price by looking like a complete idiot when the music started and I realized I didn’t know the combo. Several times I thought that I was listening, and I was even marking the steps with my hands as he ran through them, but because my mind wasn’t completely focused, I wasn’t retaining any of it. I found that I had to really concentrate hard in order to learn the routine without having to cheat and follow the other dancers – and that was great practice for me in other areas of life too. I think continuing to go to ballet class will help me minimize distractions and do just one thing at a time – something I’m usually not very good at doing.

I’m really excited to get back to what I loved doing as a kid. I wouldn’t say that ballet is something that I want to pursue full-time, in any capacity, but I think reincorporating it into my leisure time hobbies is going to be amazing. Getting to practice discipline and focus my attention is always a good thing, and I love listening to the music and relaxing in the familiar steps and rhythms. Plus, it’s good exercise without even feeling like exercise! I didn’t take ballet classes as a kid because I wanted to stay in shape; I took them because I loved ballet. While there are a lot of other fitness activities that I love doing, there’s something really simple and nice about exercising in a way that I never used to think of as exercise.

Big Chill Fro Yo
However, my post-ballet class treat has switched from regular ice cream at Stewart’s to frozen yogurt at the Big Chill. Sucks to have a grownup’s metabolism…

What did you used to do as a kid?


13 thoughts on “Reconnecting With My Childhood Passion”

  1. I used to swim year round as a kid and through high school. I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved it. I did the 4:45AM practices 5 days a week and it never felt like a chore to wake up that early to be at the pool. Even in college, I would head to the pool to swim laps instead of running on the treadmill. Just this week I got an email from my gym that they are starting a Master’s Swim program and I plan to sign up for 5AM workouts at least once a week. I love that I’ll have a coach again and someone creating workouts for me instead of just swimming endless laps for an hour.

  2. I played volleyball pretty seriously in junior high and high school. I had pretty much burned out on it by my junior year and decided not to pursue playing in college. I didn’t play for years because of the burnout, but I recently got back into it through a class at the local community college and I love it again! I’m hoping to be able to join a rec team soon. I could play for hours, get in a great workout, and never think of it as “exercise”. It’s really the best to find something like that.

  3. I ran and played football when I was younger. I got back into running about 6 years ago and am loving it. The “reconnecting with my passions” approach led to a career change, better health, and quite a few other positive things.
    You hit the nail on the head when you said you had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I feel like a lot of people find ways to justify why they “can’t” do the things they love when, in fact, there’s nothing to stop them and they have nothing to lose. If people really push themselves on the belief that they “can’t” then they’ll find that, in fact, they can and be a lot happier as a result.
    Awesome post Laura – thanks for sharing.

    1. So glad you liked it, Luke! How did reconnecting with your passions help with your career? Did you end up taking a job in the football/running sphere, or more along the lines of what I was saying with teaching me focus, etc?

    2. It actually led to a career change. I was a practicing attorney from 05-10 and getting back into taking care of myself prompted me to retire and move to greener pastures. To say I went from a negative career to a positive one is an understatement – I now tell people I’m a “recovering attorney.” I do a lot of consulting/writing now.

  4. When I read that line about looking at what you liked to do at age 14, I was like, “Gawk at boys and pass notes?” Ha. One childhood activity I’d like to get back to is playing the piano, but I don’t have a place to put a piano. Or time to play it. I’m glad you’re reconnecting with ballet–sounds fun!

    1. HI Cassie. One thing I certainly had to do to reconnect with running/athletics was make quite a few other changes in my life. Are there things you can do to cut down the space you’re devoting to other things? If not then how about a keyboard as Laura mentions?

  5. This just got added and moved to near the top of the list of “Reasons Why I Want To Move To Colorado”! I’ve always loved ballet, and I use to do it briefly when I was younger. I don’t have the body of a ballerina at all, but it would be so much fun to be able to take classes just for a hobby!

    1. Trust me, I do NOT have the body of a ballerina either, and one of my biggest challenges with the ballet classes has been figuring out what I can wear that will be supportive but still look appropriate! The Boulder Ballet is awesome though b/c they have a ton of adults-only classes, so you don’t have to feel out of place with all the kids.

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