When I turned 30, I suddenly longed to learn ballet. Though I could hardly walk down a flight of stairs without stumbling, I imagined leaping like a gazelle. I usually avoided exercise, but now the idea of stretching until I ached appealed.

I tried to ignore the urge, but my desire persisted, acute as my need to smell apple blossoms in the spring. In mid-December, I joined a class that had been dutifully stretching and leaping since September. To the instructor’s cheery, “Of course you’ve taken ballet before,” I murmured a quiet, “No.”

That evening I began a struggle that continued week after week. Like a kindergarten child, I confused my left foot with my right. My knees creaked when I attempted to plié, a sound as odious as belching at the Ritz. When we moved away from the barre and combined steps, my memory and feet failed me. My classmates leapt and whirled. I stared at the floor.

One evening, the teacher demonstrated the pirouette, twirling gracefully across the room. “To move easily,” she said, catching her breath, “keep your balance by staying centered. Stay too closed up, you won’t move. Extend too far off center and you’ll fall.”

Her words flashed like lightning and struck home. “Stay too closed up and you won’t move.” For years I’d stood still, frozen to my possibilities, fearing I’d make the wrong choice. I yearned to write, but what if I failed? I risked nothing.

“Extend too far off center and you’ll fall.” When I tried to move forward, I didn’t take small steps towards my goal, but invariably overextended myself, hit a bump and careened off course.

So this was the trick – to discover my center, the point of balance inside and to stay so exquisitely in touch with this soft spot that I could leap, turn, move constantly, without falling.

When I finished the class, I still couldn’t dance, but I knew I’d come a long way.

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