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A Graceful Personal Goal

Dancing was something I’d always wanted to do, but was too afraid to try. Was it too late to achieve this dream?

A balletic personal goal

I stood on the darkened stage, took a deep breath and moved into position. Right leg forward, toe pointed, arms bowed.

I looked around at the nine girls onstage with me, all of us in flowing black dresses and tights. Any second now the curtains would part and the spotlight would shine on us…on me, dancing in my very first recital. It was hard to believe.

I wasn’t exactly a girl. I was 51. And it’s not like I had some lifelong dream to become a dancer. I wasn’t a very coordinated kid. I was a wallflower, content to spend school dances standing in a corner with friends. Even my husband, Bob, couldn’t get me to cut a rug. It wasn’t until Bob and I were raising our five children—two boys and three girls—that I took an interest in dance.

Our daughters wanted to take jazz and ballet, so I enrolled them when they reached elementary school. Their year-end recitals blew me away! The way they moved so gracefully across the stage…they made dancing look like so much fun.

I could never perform in front of an audience, but I wished I could have that good a time with exercise. All those years as an on-the-go mom, taking care of everyone else, I’d put my own health on the back burner. Last spring I’d gone in for a long overdue checkup. I was about 15 pounds overweight and had high cholesterol. My doctor recommended regular exercise and a healthier diet. I watched what I ate and took up walking—but wasn’t there a more fun way to stay in shape? I even prayed about it. Lord, I’m not up for the latest workout fads. Can you show me a good way to get fit? Something I’ll like enough to stick with.

One afternoon in September, I took my youngest, nine-year-old Valerie, to her dance class. I hugged her goodbye and turned to leave, when a sign posted at the front desk stopped me: “Adult dance class Wednesday mornings.” I read it and reread it, checking the costs of classes and shoes. Both were in our budget.

Was this sign a sign? Did God want me to try the one thing I’d avoided my whole life? I took a chance and signed up.

Our first class was the following Wednesday. A small group of women turned out—all younger than me. By decades. Then our instructor walked in and she was even younger. “I’m Ms. Katie,” she said cheerily. “Welcome to the adult lyrical ballet class.”

Ms. Katie turned on the music—a slow song with a steady beat—and showed us a few key stretches. “These are ‘ballet hands,’” she said, demonstrating the proper way to extend our fingertips. Easy enough, I thought.

The next week things got more complicated. “And five and six and seven and eight,” Ms. Katie said in measured tones, going over a combination. The rest of the class caught on. Me? I felt stiff. Awkward. Old. Maybe it’s silly for me to take a class like this, I thought.

I showed Bob and our daughters what I’d learned, forgetting a few steps here and there. It was difficult without Ms. Katie and the girls (I couldn’t help calling them that since they were young enough to be my daughters). There were so many things to remember: positions of hands, feet and head, timing, space.

“Wait, Mom, that’s not right!” my oldest, Nicole, laughed, correcting the position of my outstretched hand. Danielle was right behind her. “Mom, do it this way,” she instructed.

After each class I’d come home and ask the girls for help. They tactfully let me know what I was doing wrong and patiently showed me the right moves. Within a few weeks I felt more coordinated. I even earned Valerie’s praise. “Mom, you’re really getting these combinations!” she said.

I wondered if Ms. Katie would notice the improvement. “Ladies, you look great!” she said to our class. Oh, good, my hard work is paying off. Then Ms. Katie added, “That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that this class will be performing in our recital along with our Tuesday class!”

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A recital? She couldn’t be serious! I was 51! Dancing to have a little fun and get in shape was one thing, but performing onstage in front of an audience? No, thanks. Besides, even with tutoring from my girls, there was no way I’d be able to memorize an entire routine. I’d make a fool of myself!

Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to say no. Driving home from the studio, I prayed, Lord, you’ve taken me this far with this dance thing. I’m going to trust that you know what you’re doing.

The next morning I woke with a great idea. I’d tape the class performing the routine so I could practice at home.

I brought my camera to class Wednesday. The girls were happy to help. They even went over some moves several times so I wouldn’t have to rewind the tape.

For five months I practiced in class and at home, going over the tape, getting the routine just right. My health improved too. I lost weight and my cholesterol dropped to just about normal. My doctor was happy and I was feeling pretty good about this dancing thing. Then came the big day.

A few hours before the recital we had a run-through. I walked into the theater full of confidence…till I saw the young mothers and daughters, dressed for their roles. I cringed. They must be wonder­ing what an old lady was doing in a dance costume! Was it too late for me to drop out?

Before I could find Ms. Katie, we were called onstage. Then I heard the first notes of our song, and my jitters faded. My body knew what to do. In fact, I had so much fun dancing I forgot anyone was watching.

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What a rush! I thought as we made our way offstage. No wonder my girls liked dancing so much. I felt like I could do anything I put my mind to.

Soon it was time for our big recital performance. We were the opening number. There, onstage, I stood with my right leg forward, my arms bowed, and took a deep breath. One of my favorite verses came to mind, from Proverbs: “Man makes his plans, but God determines his steps.”

I’d been looking for a fun way to get fit. Yet the greatest choreographer of all had guided my every step to my first ballet recital at age 51. The curtain rose. The music started. I stepped into the spotlight and danced.

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