Jazz Dance = Joy!

Billy Elliot the Musical
Image via Wikipedia

When I tell people I take a jazz dance class — while limping with every step — they think I’m nuts.

Which may well be true!

I’ve been dancing in classrooms, (and even for a week on the stage at Lincoln Center, as an extra), since I was a little girl who, like many, dreamed of becoming a ballerina.

As if.

I auditioned several times for the National Ballet School, a highly selective process that anyone who’s ever watched Billy Elliot might appreciate.

Unlike Billy, I didn’t make the cut, being told, firmly, I had the “wrong body” for ballet. Um…it’s the only one I have! Ballet is severely unforgiving in its demands of a highly specific body type: high arches, terrific turnout, a long waist, tiny hips and breasts (that must remain so after puberty.)

So I added jazz dance to ballet in my 20s, taking five classes a week. If you’ve ever watched a musical live or on film, you’ve felt the infectious joy of jazz dance — edgy, quick, sexy, playful.

I only take one class a week right now, as it’s all my wretched left hip will allow. And my battements, (kicks that should skim my shoulders or at least get that high), look more like degages at this point. But still, I can do a lot more than any physician would think (or suggest) and the benefits are many:

I’m sweat-drenched within 15 minutes.

I loathe” exercise” and machines but have to lose weight and stay strong somehow.

There’s a wide range of body type in my small class, mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Several of us are definitely larger than others, yet all of us move with grace and style, our feet and hands able to flash and flicker in time with the music, the rhythm as much a part of us as our eye color.

People are glad to see me there, encourage whatever progress I make, and miss me when I’m absent for a while.

Great music!

A huge gym flooded with light all to ourselves.

Twenty minutes of stretching, something it’s too easy to overlook when doing other forms of exercise.

A link to my athletic, carefree past.

A weekly reminder that, whatever my current physical limitations, they’re not 100 percent. That reminder inspires me out of the studio as well.

Here, my aging and injured body is still strong, flexible and graceful — not just damaged and painful. Women in an era that loathes anyone female over a size 6 who is not highly decorative, (that’s just about any era of the 21st and 20th centuries for North Americans!), need a place where their bodies are useful to themselves, a source of joy and power, not just something their husbands, children and/or employers rely on.

We use our head, shoulders, feet and arms, often independently, for beauty and pleasure — not for mere locomotion or other basic functions.

It’s what we do with our muscles and limbs — not just the size or shape of our hips and breasts — that matters here.

Movement! There is much we can express through our bodies. What a blessed respite from words.

Here’s a recent review of a book about one of the greatest jazz dancers ever, Fred Astaire.

What sport or physical activity brings you joy?