A couple of Christmases ago, I had a vision. It involved sitting in the cheap seats at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, trying to figure out how ballet works.
When I was seven years old I took about 3 months’ worth of ballet lessons in a church basement in Otterburn Heights, Quebec. The impetus was a recital that I had attended the previous spring, at the behest of a friend who was a dance student appearing in the show, and I thought I would try it out.
Unfortunately, the classes were large and the teacher had a couple of behaviours that made me uncomfortable. Getting sprinkled with fairy dust — glitter, if I recall correctly — was the reward for doing some particular exercise correctly. That was silly, but not intolerable. Another day, though, she offered to give us a kiss for doing something right, and I deliberately did it wrong to avoid that particular “reward.” That was the beginning of the end of my career in ballet.
I’ve always wanted to understand dance better. In my twenties I took a jazz dance course but found the lessons too fast-paced. I also had difficulty picking up on the various moves and the jargon. My learning style requires intent, slow repetition and I get flustered when someone chains together half a dozen movements in rapid succession and expects me to duplicate them.
More recently I took some tap dance lessons and, pun intended, something clicked. There was tighter integration between the movements and the rhythm, and my music-optimized neurons caught on much faster. I still have the tap shoes and occasionally put them on and make up combinations, and if I can find a way to fit some more lessons into my schedule I’d like to go a bit further with tap.
Getting back to the original story, in December 2015 I bought myself a ticket to watch the Royal Winnipeg Ballet perform The Nutcracker during the holiday season. It was a fun outing with fantastic music by Tchaikovsky, and it did a hard reset on my love-hate relationship with dance. This past season I decided to become a subscriber and see a few more shows, and ended up with a rather good seat near the front of the hall. The more I watch ballet the more I get it, and the more I enjoy it.
This culture-mania is the evolution of something I started doing a few years ago, expanding upon something that is regularly said to would-be authors: “Read as much as you write.” It makes perfect sense, although I resented those words the first time I heard them. Who’s got time to read? I’m writing the Great Canadian Novel here, people!
That’s why I became a regular at the local Symphony a few years ago: I needed to cultivate a stronger understanding of classical music, of stagecraft, of musicianship. (That, and I wanted a guaranteed seat for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th, too.) I’ve seen a few operas and a few musicals, gone to an occasional play, gone to the Jazz Festival now and then, and just bought a pass for the Winnipeg New Music Festival, coming up in a few weeks’ time. I’ve seen the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Joe Satriani and Yes. Unfortunately I’ve missed a few artists whom I would have loved to have seen, if only I had known they were coming to town. (I usually end up seeing a photograph of the band on the front page of the paper, the day after the show, and sighing heavily.)
There are still a few holes in my cultural knowledge. Despite living in Winnipeg since the late 1970s, I’ve never gone to the Folk Festival. My favourite rap song (and arguably my theme song) is the parody “White and Nerdy” by Weird Al Yankovic. I also don’t have a flippin’ clue how country music is supposed to work, with the possible exception of a couple of Johnny Cash songs and “My Give a Damn’s Busted” by Jo Dee Messina. Someone I know is performing in a Patsy Cline tribute show in a couple of weeks. If I can squeeze it into my schedule I’m going to the show, just to see if I can get something to click. Knowledge is power, after all.