Throughout my childhood, November was always the most important month of the year.
It’s a bit of an unusual one, as it’s nowhere near my birthday and still not quite the run-up to Christmas. I’m not American, so I’ve never really celebrated Thanksgiving, either- despite the title of this post.
The second or third weekend in November was always when my dance school would put on their annual ballet show. For all (or most of) the pupils at the school, this is what the year would revolve around.
It’s difficult for people who haven’t experienced this sort of community to understand why show-season was so special, and for those of us who were a part of it, it’s even more difficult to try and explain.
For some reason, finding out what the show was, who would play what part and what costumes would be worn, incited a sense of glamour, magic and anticipation that was far superior even to Christmas.
Without banging on too much about how amazing it is to grow up taking dance lessons (I feel like I do that a lot), I do want to briefly try to put into words the reason that this time of year will forever and always be known to me as “Showtime”.
1) The Community
On the whole, in a dance school, students are kept fairly segregated into their assigned classes, depending on what style or grade of class is being taken. Naturally, friendships are made, cliques are formed and there’s not all that much socialising to be done with pupils outside of one’s own class.
The wonderful thing about a big show is that there tends to be at least one occasion when every single pupil would be crammed onto the stage, even if it’s just during the curtain call. Rehearsals were mixed and the pre-show ballet class saw students of every grade all doing the same warm up, together at the side of the stage. It establishes a sense of community in a school. Class-barriers are removed and there’s a feeling of all coming together to create something spectacular.
2) The Progression
For those of us who were at the dance school for most of our childhood, the show was a recurring thing. By the time students left, usually at 18 years old, we’d have a good 12 or 13 shows under our belt. With this, came a collection of unspoken rules, traditions and benchmarks year by year.
The year you progressed to playing a village girl, rather than a bumblebee. The year your class got its own dressing room. The first time you went en pointe in a show. Your first tutu. Your first solo. These were things that were learned from the moment you attended your first rehearsal, usually at the age of four years old, sitting squashed and cross legged in a tightly packed studio, gazing with awe at the “older girls” who just seemed so talented and confident.
It was this yearly progression, the knowledge that each show you’d progress that little bit more than the year before, that made it all so exciting.
3) The Confidence
The principal of our dance school was very good at bringing out the best in her pupils. She knew us all exceptionally well, and was very talented at choosing roles that fit with each of our personalities. Even though you’d be onstage playing somebody else, you’d also be playing the best of yourself. For a teenager (as this was mostly when we grew older and each had solos) this invites a rare sense of confidence that is difficult to bring out in other ways.
4) The Independence
Going to rehearsals every night of the week, often missing out on free time or social events, allowed pupils to mature and grow independent from a very young age. With the exception of the necessary supervision, parents were not allowed at rehearsals, or even to hang around for too long in the car park. It’s a lot of time for a child to spend without their parents, learning to change their own costumes and do their own ballet bun- which is much easier said than done. Show-time teaches you to grow up, pull yourself together and get things done.