What I learned from dancing poorly

Ariel Meadow Stallings
7 min readJun 22
Photo of and by the author

Over a decade ago, I saw a Led Zepplin-themed burlesque show called House of Thee Unholy. It included a performance piece accompanied by the song Kashmir, performed by Seattle choreographer Lily Verlaine.

The performance was mind-bogglingly impressive: an athletic ballet/burlesque hybrid involving Lily balancing on one leg like a goddess for five minutes.

I was like, HOLY WUT the first time I saw it, and then I went to the show again and was like, NO SERIOUSLY WUT IS EVEN HAPPENING.

I was so blown away that I decided to email Lily. We have mutual friends and had crossed paths socially once or twice, but had never spent time together.

In my email, I re-introduced myself, and told her how her performance had deeply inspired me. Then asked her if she would take me on as a student… not to learn that specific routine, but to get some of the vibe of it.

I explained that while I’m a lifelong dancer, I’ve got zero classical training. I’m not especially good at complex choreography, nor do I have much experience with being instructed. I might have an at-home dance studio, but it’s for goofing around and having fun in — I do not have the physical or verbal vocabulary of a trained dancer.

I told Lily that my motivations were
a) learning and growing and
b) spending my money where I think it makes a difference — including putting it directly into the hands of artists I admire. I believe strongly in patronage.

Lily emailed back: “I’d love to, but you should know that preparing for that piece of work was a whole mental, physical, and spiritual practice.”

I gushed in response, “YOU ARE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE,” and she agreed to do four sessions of intensive training with me.

Session 1: Holy wow I am bad at ballet

The first session started with tea and a conversation about beginner’s mind, hitting emotional walls, and therapeutic/spiritual breakthroughs. Lily had me do a 10-minute walking meditation, and then we did 90 minutes of novice ballet training to Led Zepplin.

I don’t know the language of ballet, I don’t know the poses, I don’t know the postures…

Ariel Meadow Stallings

I'm a Medium product manager, but also a whole-ass person: author, publisher, devotional dancer, Seattleite, mom, and just a human humanning.