Finding My Poise

It's my third week volunteering with the Thai Culture and Fine Arts Institute of Chicago, and I'm really enjoying it. For once I feel like I'm doing something not only worthwhile but productive and enjoyable. Sure, I'm not great with kids (today's batch was particularly young and disinterested), but at least I'm getting something out of it, and I'd like to think they are, too - even if I have to force it into them.

On top of that, lunch is provided potluck-style by volunteers who alternate cooking each week, and so far I've been impressed by the time and effort they're putting in the food. They're not making your standard Thai restaurant fare, but some rather complicated traditional dishes I only find on festival days. Then there's the stud who works the front desk, the 6-foot-something, extremely well-built Latino guy with a tattoo on his right bicep. He came up to grab lunch today and I nearly bore holes staring at him. I think he noticed too. Can't be long before he corners me in the bathroom and has his way with me. God, I wish they'd serve me for lunch.

But before I give the wrong impression, my favorite part is rejoining my old dance troop. Thai folk- and classical dance looks deceptively simple, but it's actually an art of carefully studied postures that require dexterity to perform and maintain. Poise is key: the head has to be tilted at exactly the proper angle, the arms held neither too high or low or spread too wide, and every body part synchronized with each other. The greatest compliment an instructor can give is that her pupil's joints are malleable, that they don't resist when she bends and positions them.

I always leave with arms and legs sore from awkward contortions or bearing my weight unevenly, but really satisfied also. I've fancied myself as a classical dancer since I was a little kid and I'm finally pursuing it. There's a group of 16-year old boys being forced to fill the remaining male roles in the dance, and they revile it: they take grace, beauty, and refinement as a blow to their burgeoning manhoods ("Dude, this is so emasculating."). What's with this meat-head culture and why do so many adolescent men buy into it? When I was their age I let this kind of inanity and the consequent teasing get to me, but I've got the maturity and seniority now to do what I please.

Today I felt a little ungainly though, with my long, scrawny arms and big hands, so the instructor hovered behind me and helped modify my posture. (If the other dancers are swans, I am an ostrich.) I spread my arms apart in the standard "circle" position, with my fingertips curled inwards towards me.

"There, spread your arms about this wide, and your fingertips shouldn't exceed your eyebrows. Keep your back straight and your head up," the instructor said. "Everyone is different, so you have to find the posture that suits you best."

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