I used to go to ballet class.
Several times a week, I yanked on black tights, a v-neck T, and my dirty white shoes, and I’d sweat it out with all the other dance pilgrims in Anna du Boisson’s 1pm class at Daahnce-works on Balderton Street. 🩰
I found her class in an undergrad semester in London; I was working hard to get my 200+ lb frame to do all the dancey things that all the triple threat BroadWAY philosophy told me I needed if I was gonna get discovered by a West End producer and stay in London for a long career doing show after show at the National Theatre.
So, there I Tubed 🚇 most weekdays tryina get those pirouettes (and I don’t mean the lovely Pepperidge Farm dunkable biscuit.)
I worked my ass off – Anna even suggested I bring an extra T to change into for center floor (prolly so I wouldn’t sling sweat on my classmates while hurling my skeleton in precarious circles. Sorry errybody.)
There’d be moments holding a balance to Brahms, my leg in some trembling contortion, and my inner voice would scream, “This can’t be this hard, can it? Can it??! Get me ice cream!”
I even captured this moment in a little watercolor a couple years ago:
There may’ve been a part of me that imagined myself song-and-dance-manning across the stage, but the real reasons I kept going to ballet class were –
💙 Anna du Boisson was a generous and loving teacher, and somehow I could remember choreography when she explained it.
🎹 The music was beautiful – dancing with live piano collaboration filled me up. (I still jig around the studio during lessons.)
🤲🏽 And class filled up with kind and loving folk all Tetris’d into the limited barre space in that big studio with the fogged up mirrors.
I wanted to be a better dancer, yes, but there was a reason I made my life work around 1pm Ballet and not 4pm Jazz.
It also turned out that Anna hired me to come back to London to do a musical version of Little Women that she directed.
She set me up with a place to live (the Wake family’s attic spare room in their daughter Katie’s retired pink race car bed), somewhere on McFarlane Road –
She welcomed me to stay at her house for the rest of the summer, and treated me to more Pizza Express, bangers and mash at the wine bar, and Sunday roasts courtesy of Marks and Spencer grocery runs than I can count.
Her ballet school and foundation is now in the former Shepherd’s Bush Village Hall where we had rehearsals (AND where I was once apprehended by a harried BBC employee for a test run of The Weakest Link – I got voted off the island real quick. I think I was also wearing overalls.)
I’ll also never forget what she said to me one day as we rode the 94 Bus around the Marble Arch. It’s made me a better teacher:
“Often, good teaching is about what you don’t say.”
She was also the first Londoner to share the concept: “Dan, sometimes you’ve got to put your pain in your pocket and carry on.”
To my 22-year-old mind, that was not at ALL what Julia Cameron said to do in The Artist’s Way, but I’ve learned that, often, your brilliant body just puts your hurt in that lil compartment on the front of your corduroys and says “We’ll deal with that later.”
So, she was right. And thanks, body.
That 1pm ballet class changed my life; the people you put yourself around always do.
Before this explodes into a multi-chapter memoir of my London days entitled Trying to Hug Brits, let me tell you what I was thinking –
While I did love ballet class, and I’m glad I did for the professional and soul benefits – no directors were calling me back for my glissade jeté.
My dance skills were enough to get me through singers-who-move calls..
I also experienced a lot of first-round cuts.
(One painfully embarrassing one at the self-same Danceworks when I couldn’t understand the audition monitor’s West Yorkshire dialect. I thought I had indeed been invited back into the room. Nope. Joops.)
But what I want to say to you is this: If you love going to ballet class, go. Enjoy and love it like I did.
But if you’re on a get-all-my-skills-to-the-same-level-so-I’m-marketable-and-can-do-all-the-things train, I’m gonna suggest you alight at the next station and get yourself a cup of tea and a chocky bicky.
Thing is, if you’re focused on getting your leg higher than, turning more times than, screaming higher frequencies than, being choice-ier than …. You’re competing on comparables, and many of them quite subjective.
I want you to think about a theatre artist you truly admire.
Ok, now I want you to think about their skill set. What do they do well?
Do they tick all those quintuple threat boxes the college prep folks told you you needed if you wanted to go to Michigan?
I’m gonna bet the answer is no.
Did they get a broad range of diverse training that informs everything they do? Probably.
When you try to compete on skills like you’re an athlete playing a game with objective rules, you disappear yourself.
When you celebrate and lean into the things that make you light up, you light up.
The work that’s meant for you finds you, or you have the clarity to create it, and you stop obscuring your light trying to be and do all the things.
Take a moment to ask yourself, “What truly gives me energy? What’s a cup filler, and what’s a drainer?”
Focus on your fillers.
And remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.
ps a lil walk-n-talk about your strengths from the IG this week
And if you’re not already step-touching at the Calla-gram party, touch that Follow button and join us!
pps and while you’re on the IG, do you follow Tabitha Brown? She always rolls in with that word you need when you need it– 🔥💙🙏