Skinny Legs and All

I drove nine hours to see the American ballet dancer David Hallberg  not dance at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. The event was streamed live on the internet, so I could have watched it from my living room.  (If you don’t know who he is, see these previous posts: The Joys of Failure and David Hallberg, Random Penguins…)

This is not the kind of thing I generally do. Or that one does in general, when you get down to it.

Last week I saw a rock star…  Perform rock music… Without driving very far at all.  This is the kind of thing people do.

David Hallberg is skinny.  “All arms and legs trying desperately to control them,” was the ungraceful way he described himself– I am paraphrasing from memory.  (All of the quotes in this post will be from memory even though the event is archived and can be viewed on the Kennedy Center site.)  He was talking about his form at age 16, but he also said or inferred that his self-image had not changed all that much.  He was still frequently frustrated in his desire to control those long limbs.

I’m not a dancer, I’m a writer.  This is what I am trained to do: spot metaphors. “All arms and legs and trying to maintain control” has the ring of a great metaphor.

I was trying to control all my moving parts a couple of months ago.  I was managing a ballet educational tour which involved, among other things, sitting in dance studios in 26 different states (not all at once) and pushing the play and pause buttons on the CD players for 112 classical ballet classes.  The play-pushing part of my job is the most relaxing.  The rest of the time I am driving, planning, booking hotels, finding meals, communicating with schools and dozens of other small, un-sexy details. (Also juggling my publishing career.)  In class, the dancer does the bulk of the work and I have time after firing up a track marked “rond de jambe par terre” to check my smart phone.  This is how I learned about the event at the Kennedy Center. Tickets were free.  (Hotel was $200)

From my friend Michelle’s dance studio in Charleston, WV I fired off a message to my friend Jenny.  (The same Jenny mentioned in my Adam Ant post.)  I sent her the link because she knew I was on a bit of a Hallberg kick at the moment and she is kind enough to indulge me in whatever catches my attention.

“Would be nice to go to this,” I said. I did not need to add the reasons I could not– too far to walk, too soon after driving through 26 states on my own tour to contemplate a road trip.

All arms and legs trying desperately to maintain control.

“I wish I could go with you,” Jenny wrote back.

“It would be nice.”

Driving six hours (Jenny lives in Cleveland) to see a ballet dancer not dancing– when you’re not even much of a ballet fan– is not the kind of thing Jenny usually does.

“So,” she wrote. “Let’s do it.”

After pressing play on a track labeled “Grand Battement” I navigated to the Kennedy Center site and reserved tickets.   There was nothing to lose.  The tickets were free. (Did I mention the hotel cost $200?)  We had begun to lose control of our limbs.

(I just had a mental image of myself at a ballet barre, sweating as I work to stretch this metaphor.)

Before I left for Washington D.C., I posted this Facebook status: “I am actually going to take a weekend off. That is so weird.” 

Even though we had occasional days off on our tour, I never took a full day of rest and I can’t remember the last time I did. A day off meant we did not have a master class, but I took them as opportunities to handle those aforementioned un-sexy details of touring, to book the next tours, and to send out queries to publishers and agents, go back and forth with my editor on an article I was writing and so on.  When I came back to Michigan after the tour I started to work obsessively on a new novel, a task which has had me at the computer until 4 AM most days.

When I packed for my weekend adventure, I put all of the notes for the novel in my suitcase.  (Can we agree, going forward, that I can imply the whole “limbs and control” metaphor without actually saying it? I’m fairly certain I am on the verge of stretching to the point that I pull something, if I haven’t already.)

When I told my friend Michelle, a talented dance teacher, that I was going on an adventure to see a ballet dancer not dance for an hour in Washington D.C. she thought it sounded excellent.  She said, “I wish I could go on an adventure.”

“Why wish?” I said. “The tickets are free.” (The Hotel on the other hand…)

If there had not been three of us going, the whole adventure might not have happened. Children (in the case of my two companions), work, financial questions… Each of us, at one point or another, decided that dropping everything and driving cross country to see a ballet dancer not dance for an hour in Washington D.C. might not be an entirely practical fit with our busy lifestyles.  Having two others counting on you for their adventure is a great motivator.  I think they call this peer pressure.

David Hallberg seems to prefer to wax philosophically about art in general than to get down to brass tacks and he even called himself out on it at one point. This is not to say that his musings were uninteresting.  As a non-dancer, musings about the nature of the artistic calling are more interesting than shop talk about cabrioles.  He said something about risk that I recall I related to very strongly as a writer and artist. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was exactly.

Here is why I remember so little: about five minutes into the event I realized I had to pee.  By the time we’d reached the half way mark I was suffering from  kid-in-the-backsteat-of-the-car-sixty-miles-from- the-next-rest-stop kind of  pain.

Handy Hint! If you plan to go to see a ballet dancer not dancing for an hour, try to avoid consuming large amounts of liquid in the two hours leading up to it.  (You can trust my advice. I am a professional How To author.  See my Reader’s Digest book Don’t Screw It Up)

From that point on, my overriding thought was “Do I have to leave the theater now, or can I make it through to the end without wetting the Kennedy Center seats?” This stamped out any deeper reflections the discussion of a dancer’s art might have inspired.  (I was mentally engaged enough to grab up that metaphor about control and long limbs, though.)

After the show, Michelle turned left in a quest for Milk Duds. (We hadn’t eaten all day) Jenny and I turned right in a quest for plumbing.  We passed the men’s room– no line– and arrived at the women’s room– long line.   I had made it through the show but had not budgeted any extra energy for a long rest room line. (“He was so cute,” a woman in a glittery blouse gushed. She was standing between me and the exquisite relief of the stalls.)

Fortunately I discovered, in a quiet corner, a family restroom with a sign on the door that indicated it was only to be used when circumstances warranted.  Not sure what that meant, but I felt that my situation qualified.  Let me just say that being physically comfortable is one of the small, under-appreicated pleasures of life.  I came out of the restroom, waited for Jenny to take her turn, and then we both stood waiting for some people down the hall beyond us to take pictures of each other so we could pass.

That’s when we noticed David Hallberg, the man himself, coming out of the back stage area.  We stood there as he passed. He was texting something on his smart phone. We later joked that it was probably “Two middle-aged women making goofy smiles at me, must not look up.”

Pointe Magazine described Hallberg as “Tall, with a full head of wispy blond hair and a long forehead ending in a strong brow, David Hallberg has prominent, attentive eyes that possess a melancholic, preternatural maturity. He is, in a word, regal.”

I’m guessing he looks more “regal” without the cell phone, but he is strikingly tall and slim.

Anyway, I am glad that the program was taped so that I can watch what I missed by being there in person to see it. In the moment, I am certain I responded to much of what was said. I’m looking forward to hearing it again for the first time.

Now that I am on the subject, I do remember one other part of the interview.  The dancer spoke about recovering from an injury and all of the things he had to wipe off his schedule at that time.  He took the time to see the Grand Canyon.  On crutches.

When I was thinking about taking this trip and planning what it would be like, I mainly thought about the interview.  I thought we would spend a low key day taking in the monuments and then being intellectually engaged with a lecture before settling in for an evening of conversation at the hotel.  That is the kind of vacation we would have had if we’d controlled our limbs. (Sorry, I did have to bring it back. I couldn’t help myself.)

Instead we decided to just move and see what would happen.  We spent hours in the car listening to songs from our youth and talking about every subject under the sun. We had a chance to stay in a stylish “boutique” hotel with complimentary yoga mats and zebra print robes that cost $90 if you decide you must take them with you.   We, through a twist of fate, ended up at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival.  (Michelle had stage managed The Soul Rebels once, and discovered they would be in the city at the same time.)  We (the ones who hadn’t) met the drummer and had a great long conversation in the hotel lounge.  I hasten to add, we thoroughly enjoyed the free interview/lecture, in case my description of it might not convey this.  We spent an hour getting recommendations for a great restaurant and choosing where to go only to get there 15 minutes after it closed.  We (four of us now, including our new musician friend)  found ourselves eating pizza on an outdoor terrace and bantering with a charming Italian waiter. We got lost trying to walk back to our stylish boutique hotel and found ourselves back at the Kennedy Center. We enjoyed company all the way.  We did people watching. We laughed until eyes streamed, debated until people got annoyed, and then laughed again until sides hurt.

So what is the moral of this story? Don’t be so haunted by your quest for an unobtainable perfection that you forget to enjoy the accidents along the way.

Also–and my Adam Ant post will bear this out– I am terrible at writing reviews.

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