Once upon a time when I was the director of a small ballet school I taught classical ballet to adult beginners a couple nights weekly. They were dedicated people, mostly women, but also a few men, from all walks of life. Some of them told me it took them weeks to gather the courage to come for their first class. Some were just passing through, most enjoyed it and continued until the school closed its doors in 2012 after six short years. My teaching style is non-threatening in the main, and I would like to think my adult students found the classroom environment a safe place to make mistakes, to learn, to gain body awareness, to discover their capabilities and limits.
Their classes were scheduled in the evening after I had taught the other enrollees, varied levels for children from ages four to about fourteen on any given weekday. I was usually toast by the time my adults came into the school and honestly it was sometimes difficult for me to gather the enthusiasm and energy to teach them, but I tried like crazy not to show it. Classical ballet—dancing, or conveying ballet to a new generation—really does require every shred of focus and intellect you possess, to say nothing of the physical demands of teaching. At least, this is the case when you deem it important enough to do it well. And when you are dealing with adult beginners you’ve got to demonstrate every movement—full out—you can’t pantomime the movement the way you can with accomplished young dancers who understand it already, nor can you assume they know what you mean when you begin speaking that language. And then when the music starts you’ve got to dance it with them.
But after we finished our floor warm-ups and pulled out the barres to begin class in earnest, wall to wall grins and giggles erupted at happy mistakes and triumphs and I always somehow rebounded and felt great. I went home exhausted and satisfied. I remember one of my students struggling to get her placement correct (it’s how we describe posture in ballet), and at the same time internalizing the steps to the exercise we were doing; she quipped, Wow. I bet dancers never get dementia.
I have an even better appreciation for those adult learners now that I have decided to venture into the (very) frustrating world of photography. I have figured out a couple of things about which I reserve the right to later change my mind. First, morning light is the best light. I shot that flower up there in yesterday’s glorious morning light. Second, I fare much better at closeups than landscape shots. To wit:
But even so that busy bee is blurry; I asked it to hold still to no avail. The landscape was my attempt to shoot the mountains looking west from downtown Manchester yesterday around lunchtime. It stinks, in part because there was all this junk in the bottom of the photo I had to edit out, which made the proportions of the photo awful. But I am smitten by Vermont’s Green Mountains. We’ve had some incredible summer days lately with cool temperatures, low humidity, and gathering afternoon clouds to punctuate the intense blue of the afternoon sky. I love the shadows the clouds cast on the mountains, how they change every second and bring movement to the mountains themselves. It’s what I wanted to capture, and eventually I’ll figure out how.
I will attend my first-ever photography workshop in early October. I am told it does not matter that you know nothing, and I hope the organizers of the workshop really mean that. I am the beginningest of beginners who will be there, I am sure. Here is how beginning of a beginner I am: I need the instructor to say, This is a camera—you use it to take pictures. I am not kidding. Every picture I’ve taken that has turned out well has been the result of dumb luck. And I am still shooting in auto mode.
The great thing, though, is that I know the folks in charge of the workshop and feel safe and unthreatened around them, as my adult students did around me. In the meantime I’m enjoying every new discovery I make (today it was the zoom function on my lens). And just think of all those new neural pathways that must be sprouting in my noggin about now, like these pretty sprouting flowers outside our back door.
The steepest learning curve is completely worth the climb.