Ballet Again, Take 3…

Ballet Again, Take 3…

How does the saying go? I wish I weighed what I did when I first thought I was fat? Well – I wish I were as in shape as the first time I thought I was out of shape. But at 25, I had no clue what being out of shape meant.


But now I do, and I am partly putting the responsibility for it on my sedentary work writing, and sedentary Day Job, and partly on menopause.

Menopause happens for a reason. Women’s bodies stop preparing for pregnancy (thank goodness!). But with that, comes a loss of hormones. Our bodies gain weight in weird and unpredictable spurts even when we’re doing everything “right” in order to protect us while we go through this transition.

When you add stress to that situation, which includes everything from aging parents, adult children who will not leave home, death or divorce of a spouse/parent/child/other loved one, job issues, and so on, the normally sane woman can easily find herself munching on anything she can find in the middle of the night, as well as downing a bottle of wine. Or two. Depending on the circumstances and the enablers loving family around her.

So here I am, post-total abdominal hysterectomy (August 2012), post-hormones (because they went up to $100 a month and nobody got time for that), post-emotional growth spurt last year…without the benefit of a gym membership – and here I am, once again. Staring at myself in the mirror, and thinking, oh hell. I am so out of shape. Not only that, but my balance is beginning to erode again. Sigh.

Is there vanity involved? Hell yes. I have great feet and great legs, and I’d like to look respectable in clothes that will show them off. Which means I need to get back into the gym and start walking on the treadmill (did you know that CARDIO exercise can help keep you mentally sharp? Go here to check it out). I would also like to be able to take walks with my husband without getting dizzy and having to hang onto him.

It also means that I need to get back to ballet. Simple barre exercises, stretching, balancing exercises, eventually the joy of moving a bit across a wooden floor, even if it’s in socks and yoga pants and a big, enveloping t-shirt.

My first day back to the Barre was on Friday evening. I was fine until I attempted grand plies. I have decided that at my age, I no longer need to do grand plies. I am hoping my right quadricep will forgive me soon, and we can continue this odyssey.

(And when I’m not at the gym, I’ll be doing yoga in my front room.)

So, yes. There’s vanity involved. But I also want to be healthy for as long as I possibly can. My father is 87; he has a bad shoulder and a bad ankle. His hands are twisted with arthritis, and he hurts every single day. But he’s walking, his mind is clear, and his arms are strong enough to give me hugs when I see him.

I want to be like my dad, only stronger. And without the pain. I think it’s a worthy goal.

hands at thanksgiving

Back to the Barre, Week 2

Back to the Barre, Week 2

…two steps back…

My body isn’t happy with me. Oh, it doesn’t care that it’s 6:15 am and I’m headed to the gym; no, it’s more that I haven’t been to the gym (and more importantly, done the stretching or the ballet work) for three days so far.

Last week? 6 out of 7. This week? The 23rd, we went to San Diego for an early Christmas with my Dad. On the way home, we dropped by the Chocolate Bar in Carlsbad, and got hugs from Tameri Etherton and her fantastic hubby Dave (not to mention chocolate, and coffee drinks). Then, On Christmas Eve, there was a class from 5:30am to 6:30am. We’d gotten to the gym early. I wasn’t about to wait around for the room to be free. Plus the gym was closed on Christmas Day. Three days into the week and no ballet.

It took too long for my back to warm up this morning, another nasty side effect from not working out for three days. I spend thirty minutes on the treadmill instead of twenty, hoping to get everything even more warmed up than usual.

I finally go into the aerobics room and do my stretches. Ten minutes of stretching, then it’s time to get back on my feet. At my makeshift barre, I look in the mirror. Whether it’s the placement of my grey tee shirt or what, I catch my breath at my reflection, with only one thought on my mind.

WHY AM I SEEING MY MOTHER’S HIPS ON MY BODY?  The very hips I used to be so dismissive of, so smug – my hips would never look like that. Ever. (Now I just want to bonk my head on a cement wall and curse genetics. Unfortunately, no cement wall handy.) I look again, and there they are. My Mother’s hips, somehow attached to my body.

Oh, the horror! I squinch my eyes and go about my workout, avoiding looking at anything in the mirror other than my white-socked feet. The workout ends up being brutally short, as I’m sweaty and panting after just tendus. Which is not a good thing. Mentally, I’m wailing. I’ve only been away for three days. THREE. DAYS.

Shit. This getting into shape via ballet workout is not going to be a) easy or b) fun or c) pleasant. But damn it. I’m committed. I know I’m not going to get where I was (who does?); but I’d like to get closer to her, in the photo below. Except the hair. I’ll be happy to skip the perm.

Christine Ashworth, circa 2001. Photo by Jackson/Kristofferson & Associates, Los Angeles

Christine Ashworth, circa 1981. Photo by Jackson/Kristoffersen & Associates, Los Angeles

 So. What are you up to? Hope your Christmas was a merry one!


Back to the Barre, 30 Years Later

Back to the Barre, 30 Years Later

The room feels the same. Wooden floor beneath my feet, the floor to ceiling mirrors. It’s dark, though, the only light coming in through the huge windows facing the main part of the gym. It’s early, not quite seven in the morning, and I’ve come to see what I can reclaim from my youth.

The last pair of pointe shoes I wore. These are 30 years old at least.

The last pair of pointe shoes I wore. These are 30 years old at least. Not so pretty up close, are they?

I’ve already warmed up on the treadmill; the ballet barre is too strenuous for me to do without a warm-up at this stage in my life. I put the mat down and do some stretches, as my back isn’t what it used to be. Sitting wrong for so many years, as my husband will tell you. At any rate, I’m here to reclaim the ease of movement I once had, so. Stretching.

It’s the third day in a row that I’ve rolled out of bed and come straight to the gym, stopping only for a shot of espresso in my kitchen, quickly downed. My stretching today is easier than it had been earlier in the week, and yet I’ve started to sweat. I stand up and put the mat away and my heart pumps in anticipation. There isn’t a barre in the room, that would be too heavenly; instead, I hang onto the red support pole toward the back of the room.

Just standing in first position is a workout, if you do it right. Back straight. Ass tucked in. Stomach tucked in. Chest up, shoulders down and back. Chin up, but not forward. Somehow, when I stand in first position, my body remembers. Flows to the right position.

The view in the mirror is wrong, though. Indistinct, a bit blurry. I’m not wearing pink tights and a black leotard; instead, a grey t-shirt from Aspen, Colorado, cut out at the neck and hem and a pair of black yoga pants, with white socks on my feet.  My hair sticks out any old way, the cap I’d worn to the gym earlier discarded, along with my sweatshirt and tennis shoes.

"Innovations"  ballet, choreographed by Greg Smith. From left to right: Karen Gabay, Patrice Dabrowski, Christine (Me), Anne Dabrowski

“Innovations” ballet, choreographed by Greg Smith for California Ballet Company’s Junior Company. From left to right: Karen Gabay, Patrice Dabrowski, Christine (Me), Anne Dabrowski (1976?) Back when I could dance.

I start with tendus. (Usually plies come first, but my knees can’t handle them yet.) Simple, four to the front, side, back, side, all in first position. Soutenou to the other side and repeat.

I stare at my feet as I work. My feet look the same. High arch. Beautiful feet. I’ve always been proud of them and now, as I move from tendus to degages, I focus on them, gleaming white in the dark of the room.

Next, ronde jambs. Circling outward is fine; circling inward hurts my standing knee, and I resort to a demi plie to pamper the knee a bit. The rhythms are there, the muscle memory is there, and when I close my eyes, I almost feel seventeen again. I change sides and chance a look into the mirror; the body is not the same, and reality breaks me a little.

My feet haven't changed.

My feet haven’t changed.

The feet are the same, the heart inside me is the same; but the body has changed. I miss ballet so much it tears at me sometimes and I wish that I had kept it up, somehow, during my incredibly selfish twenties. Instead I turned to running and weights, and was at times amazing-looking. (When I was 28, I looked better naked than clothed. All finely muscled. Too bad I never had photos taken, lol.) Then came the rest of life, and I’d been without ballet for so long I thought I could never go back.

Exercise takes selfishness. It takes the ability to say, “this is ME time”, and mean it. Hold to it. I’ve just finished three difficult years physically; now, finally, this is my time to seize hold of the inner me that craves exercise. When I did some soul-searching about what makes me happy, I realized that ballet makes me happy. Not running, not weights, not aerobics, but ballet.

I’m nowhere near ready to be a part of a class; I’ve got a long way to go before I can envision myself standing at a barre with a bunch of teenagers, or even other adults. My pride won’t let me and I’m okay with that. Luckily, in the early morning, the exercise room at the gym is empty but for me and others who wander in and out, doing headstands or pushups or practicing rap songs under their breath as they shake their booty (this IS Los Angeles, after all). I’m pretty sure you’ll never see me dancing in Swan Lake again; but if I can regain even a portion of the strength and flexibility I once had, I’ll be good to go.

And if I’m lucky, maybe someday the mirror will edge closer to the memory.

The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring

It all started with me running a handbag down to the woman who works with us at my day job every now and then. She walks with two canes, and her handbag is heavy – so one of us in the office always comes down and brings it to her before her ride picks her up.

I was on my way back into the office when my dear friend Kelie, whom I’ve known since before I had children, stopped me as she was driving out of the driveway (because she works in the same building).

“I owe you,” she said. “Let’s do something fun. I’m going to the ballet in February, you game?”

Okay, maybe she didn’t exactly say those words. But I heard “The Rite of Spring” and I was hooked. Plus, a symposium earlier in the day. We’d have a total Girl’s Day Out!

Now, you need to understand one thing to make this post make sense. Kelie is one of those people who is lovely, never says a bad word about anyone else, knows how to keep laughing, is never seen tipsy much less drunk, and has worked The Razzies for the last couple of decades (at least) and has no enemies, I swear. In other words, she’s a total enigma! So while I was getting ready on Saturday morning, the hubs was envious. “You’re spending a whole day with Kelie. That’s like going to Europe.”

And it was. I drove to her house – her directions mainly consisted of “head toward the Hollywood sign” (well, they were better than that actually) and as I drove up and up, passing tourists who were taking pictures of the sign, I felt more and more like I was going to Europe for real. I found her place, parked, and made my way down the steps to her guest cottage.

The steps down to Kelie’s guest house. Kind of scary, but also beautiful!

And from there the day just got better and better. It was wonderful to see her, even though I swear she looks the same as she did in 1985/86, though her hair is shorter today than it was. She drove us to the Music Center, which is a damned good thing as the freeway was jammed and she took us through side streets that I’d never been on before, and certainly never driven.

The Music Center concourse, downtown Los Angeles

The music center itself was magnificent. From its chandeliers to its fountains, it felt like wallowing in luxury. The Symposium was packed with information delivered by very erudite professors; they had slides, which helped. The Symposium was free, as was a lovely snackie section of fruit and cheese and crackers, soda, tea, coffee. But the most important thing is all the knowledge that was crammed into my head about the ballet we were going to see that night – The Rite of Spring, that caused such a riot in Paris in 1913, and that basically started the modern dance movement.

(This year, 2013, is the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring’s first performance, and the 25th anniversary of The Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of Nijinski’s original choreography. So seeing it on Saturday night made it doubly special.)

After the Symposium, we went to dinner at the Brasserie (because I lost the pamphlet that had given us further options) and we ate very well. Plus we got to know the ladies next to us, a mother-daughter combo who were also going to the ballet that night.

A painting of one of the costumes/dancers of The Rite of Spring

Finally, it was time for curtain. Two ballets happened prior to the Rite of Spring; these ballets brought out my inner Diva. No one really landed their double pirouettes, and footwork tended to be sloppy, but I forgave them. However, the number of double-jointed dancers astounded me. In my day, only two dancers could whack themselves in the ear with their knee as they were standing. On Saturday, it seemed like every third dancer had that ability. Annoying. It really did become annoying. Or maybe that’s just jealousy speaking.

(Which reminds me. Charlize Theron was sitting in the row in front of me, about ten seats to the left of where I was. She looked GORGEOUS – all cheekbones and sleek, very short red hair. Loved the shoes she wore, and the slim black pants and jacket. Just saying.)

By the time we got to The Rite of Spring, I was ready for something to keep me awake. And it did. Point and counterpoint, rhythm and anti-rhythm – the movements, so antithetical to “classical” ballet, were refreshing and were made so much more accessible to me by the symposium I had gone to earlier in the day. I wondered how many people were confused by what they were seeing, and I was grateful for the knowledge gained earlier.

The ballet was vibrantly colored, musically fascinating, and the dancing was mesmerizing. If I hadn’t had that previous introduction to Nijinski’s choreography and Stravinsky’s score, I would have been pretty grumpy about it. As it was, I floated on air.

Afterwards, Kelie and I headed upstairs to the retrospective…here’s a shot from there.

And of course, a shot of Kelie and I.

Christine and Kelie at the Music Center, Feb 2, 2013

I was gone all day on Saturday – missing my hubby and emails and notices from my classmates in the blogging class I’m taking with Kristen Lamb and all the tomfoolery that goes on with my Facebook friends. But I came away from that time spent with an old friend, feeling as though, indeed, I had spent the day in Europe.

I am a lucky, lucky woman.

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?


The Next Big Thing blog meme

The lovely and talented Nan Reinhardt tagged me for this blog meme. Everyone knows that The Next Big Thing is just on the horizon, so we writers are putting our work in progress out there for the world to peer at, and possibly champion. So sit back and enjoy reading about my next pet project that doesn’t yet have a home.

What is the working title of your next book?
The Perfect Partner OR Weightless

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I spent my teenage years in a ballet company, fell in love (more than once) and finally married one of the straight male dancers. Yes, they do exist! And we’re still married, lol!

What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary Young Adult

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow – I don’t know the young actors of today. A young lady who can dance ballet, AND act. A 20ish Patrick Swazye, and a young Judd Nelson.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A 16 y/o new (and youngest) member of the Seaside Ballet Company learns to juggle the very adult world of ballet while walking on the wild side when she’s not wearing pointe shoes.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m hoping an agency will pick it up. But we shall see!

 How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
First drafts, when they come easy, are usually done in a couple of months. When it’s like pulling teeth, it can take longer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Next question, lol!

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I loved the ballet world when I was in it, and there weren’t any novels about that world. I decided to write a novel that showed the sexual awakening of a young girl in a world that’s all about the physical – without there being any actual sex involved. While ballet is exhausting, it’s also a very sexy sport.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It has two heroes – one a man in his early 20s, and one a teenager; she’s attracted to both of them for very different reasons. One is bad for her, and the other one is almost too good to be true.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my ballet photos scanned into my computer yet, or I’d provide proof of my former life. As it is, for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it. So, there you have it! Let me know what you think about this project – thumbs up or thumbs down? Don’t worry, I can handle it!

Here comes the tagging part of the meme. Since I hopped in rather late, I’ve only got two folks to tag. Please check out these ladies, both now and next Wednesday when they’ll post THEIR “The Next Big Thing”!

UPDATE: The marvelous BETH BARANY has agreed to participate! Find her here:


and the sweet Sharon Goldstein!

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?