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Relighting a personal fire by exploring the unknown

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Paris and Other Brave New Worlds

By Diane Gudat

One day, after 30 years in the classroom, I realized I was burned out. It was increasingly difficult to relate to anything outside the dance world. It was time, I thought, to expand my horizons and relight my fire.

I had always harbored a deep desire to visit Paris. I pictured myself exiting an airplane on the tarmac staircase (not unlike scenes of The Beatles’ arrival in the United States). I’d wear a smart dress and perfect flats. Waving at the crowd in my wrist-length white gloves, I’d exclaim in my best Julia Child accent, “Petit battement sur le cou-de-pied!” (This was the longest French phrase I knew at the time.) So, as my New Year’s resolution for 2009, I launched a plan to shame my husband into taking me to France.

I should explain that I am ever-so-slightly obsessive. When I learned to crochet I quickly made a 20-pound blanket that would cover two king-size beds. The next year I switched to knitting and made legwarmers and scarves for everyone I knew. I never saw them—the legwarmers and scarves, I mean—again.

With my French adventure in mind, I downloaded a French language course and bought workbooks, flash cards, and dictionaries. I figured I already had a good grasp on several French verbs. Yet the more I studied, the more confused I became. (Turns out that “ballet French” is not necessarily conversational.) I did not give up but kept the language lessons playing in my car and on my iPod. At the gym I would select a treadmill between two people wearing headphones so they wouldn’t hear me repeating the lessons aloud. (I hope they thought I was singing, but they probably thought I was just odd.) I even tried to translate The Little Prince, thinking it would be fun to translate a simple children’s story. Simple children’s story? Ha! I never even managed to read it in English.

After a year and a half, I now can introduce myself, order wine, and book a hotel room. It may sound stupid, but I feel a little smarter and a bit more in control, and I definitely find myself more interesting. And my ploy worked—my husband and I went to Paris for two weeks in September.

Letting go has helped me in so many ways. It has given me a fresh and important perspective on how my students feel in the classroom. As I strengthened my body, I recaptured a little of the physical confidence I had lost as an aging dancer.

Inspired by that small step into the unknown—and frustrated by a shoulder injury—I decided to try something new in the physical realm. I enrolled in Pilates, certain that my extensive knowledge of the dance arts meant I would excel and even teach this instructor a thing or two. Two moves into session number one, I realized my experience was practically irrelevant. If I wanted to learn this new method of movement, I had to first learn to let go of what I knew.

Letting go has helped me in so many ways. It has given me a fresh and important perspective on how my students feel in the classroom. As I strengthened my body, I recaptured a little of the physical confidence I had lost as an aging dancer. I felt better and there was new pep in my step. I’ve since added a mat class to my weekly Pilates schedule and continue to be inspired to look at my old world in a new way. Dance friends have told me they have experienced similar rejuvenation in yoga, Zumba, or Gyrokinesis classes. What’s more, I even have a few new friends.

With a recuperated shoulder and a very strong knee brace, I decided to attempt a step aerobics class. That first hour felt like five. The 20-something instructor barked out rapid-fire patterns that had my head spinning. And no one explained that the benches were adjustable. There I was on the highest setting, facing the wrong direction and panting like a Saint Bernard while the stereo pounded and the Black Eyed Peas told me that “tonight’s gonna be a good, good night!” After it was over, a woman from two benches down approached. “Weren’t you Miss Diane, my old dance teacher?”

Well, I am still Miss Diane, but new and improved! One of these days I’ll figure out what that baby-faced instructor means when she screams “Shuffle!” or “Around the world!” In the meantime, I’m going to keep laughing and I’m not giving up.

Lately, I have an urge to get one of those dressmaker forms like on Project Runway and make myself a gown. Who knows? I could end up wearing it in Paris. Ooh la la!

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One Response to “Relighting a personal fire by exploring the unknown”

  • Deb:

    This story sounds like the mantra of our generation of dance teachers Diane…Glad you made it to Paris…it reminds me we all have to keep dreaming!

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