Three years ago I was nannying, burned out, and blocked. I had moved to Nashville to write more songs and instead I was writing less, if any. Exhausted physically from the job and emotionally from the move, the last thing I could focus my attention on was my writing.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made me do it. In Chattanooga I took a summer of barre classes, which I enjoyed, and which challenged me physically. My cousin is a professional ballerina and this art-sport always fascinated me. It’s as achingly beautiful as it is athletic, and there’s a mysterious mist around it. I had been to a few ballets, but never taken a class in my life. You could say I knew enough to be interested and not enough to be curious about what lay behind the curtain.
A Google search turned up the Nashville Ballet community classes from intro to advanced, and I signed up with some trepidation. I remember driving to my first class with my brand new ballet slippers. It was like the first day of school. New faces, only many of them had been there before and the teacher was about my age. When she complimented my turnout I was back in the third grade. Flashbacks to penmanship awards and stickers drowned out the next accompaniment. I worked up a sweat, had sore ankles the next day, and decided I liked it.
This new thing was so many things to me. It was discipline and structure, exercise, community, learning, creativity, and a time to turn my brain off, listen to the music, and be completely present, focused only on the shape my body made and the curve of my foot. I found I was good at it. I was learning again, and surprisingly, I missed learning. With my mind open and flexible—more so than my body, I gained confidence. I met a woman, closer to my mother’s age than my own, and we became instant friends. She was easy to talk to and funny and during a time when I was figuring out how to make friends, here was one I saw several times a week. We were building something. She asked about my work and my writing and that meant the world to me. All of it reinforced my creativity. Something I knew, but which had gotten quite lost in the move: I am a creative person.
I watched myself improve and moved to the beginners class. I loved my new teacher. He was hilarious, eccentric, and offered the best imagery in broken record-like fashion. At the end of almost every class he told us we had accomplished more than most people by just getting through the door, and for most of us, coming back the next day. Our reverent bows at the end of class were to no one but ourselves, an acknowledgment of the work we had done to reach the end, through failures and successes.
Sometimes letting your creativity breathe out of a new airway, makes it strong enough to come out in new invigorated gusts. Art inspires art. Creativity produces more creativity. Sometimes turning the brain off and letting your body move unlocks and unblocks what you’ve been wanting to say. Looking back, my ballet classes look a lot like the artist dates Julia Cameron talks about. I didn’t think of myself as an artist in those moments of class, but what is an artist if it’s not growing, creating, and flexing the creative muscles we all have: daily acknowledging the work, the failings and improvements, and coming back again the next day.
I started ballet classes in February 2017. I began writing again that summer, and in the fall I decided to take a workshop that would reset my creative journey and in roundabout ways, change my life. I’m not saying it was all the ballet, there were other factors at play. But I’m not saying it wasn’t. And if I’m honest I believe it was the simple partaking in creativity again. Allowing myself to play, learn, and stretch (literally). It was momentum. A beginning. And if I could begin at this new and unforgiving art, could I not begin at something familiar, the blank page, an old friend? To quote W. H. Murray, the Scottish mountaineer, “Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”
Take some time to think about something you’ve always wanted to do or are curious about. You may have less access to things due to the pandemic, but think outside the box. Even an online class is a class. There’s a flower school in London offering online workshops (London Flower School), I have friends teaching and taking voice lessons online, or maybe you have always wanted to learn to cook—there is no better time for that. It may cost a little money, but I can almost guarantee it will be worth it.
I took ballet for two years almost up until we left Nashville for New York and occasionally (pre COVID) I still take a class. Not necessarily because of a blockage, though it doesn’t hurt, but because I found something I love. You never know where curiosity will lead you. Sometimes to a new hobby, a new art form, or simply, but beautifully, to a new relationship. There’s no magic in the tendus and dégagés. The magic is in showing up, much like it is when I go to write. And at the very least it provided a little joy in a difficult time. Isn’t that enough?