By Elissa Allen
When your family starts turning your name into a verb (Elissa v. 1. To be klutzy, 2. To embarrass yourself in public, 3. To take a long bath. ex. I just fell down a flight of stairs and broke a vase, I totally pulled an Elissa) it can lead you to the conclusion that you are perhaps not graceful. In my case, that would be rather correct. Because of it, I try to avoid public displays of movement whenever possible.
By the time I had transferred to Binghamton University in the fall of 2007, I was pretty sure I knew who I was, and who I wasn’t. I was good at singing and bad at sports, I liked the opera and not rap, and I would rather spend time in my dorm with a couple of friends than ever attend a party which could be considered a “ragger.” I was also a person who was really, really comfortable in their comfort zone and not willing to budge from it.
So to put it mildly, I was a little under enthused when I realized I would have to take a physical education class in order to graduate. I pulled up the online course catalog and called my best friend, and she was per usual, encouraging and supportive.
“It could be fun,” she said.
“Do you think I could take one where I didn’t move?” I asked.
“No. So what about swimming?”
“I am not wearing a bathing suit in public.”
“Right, okay, then bowling.”
“No hand-eye coordination.”
“That would involve sweating, right?”
“Yes, most movement does. Okay how about this, Introduction to Broadway Dance.”
“Broadway dance, you like Broadway.”
“What time is it at?”
“8:30 in the morning.”
“Are you crazy?”
“No, but you have to take something. Are you willing to do anything else?”
I signed up for the class. There was a wide range of students; girls who looked like me in terms of size and skill, theater girls who were trying to round at their resume and considered themselves about it all, girls who fell somewhere in the middle.
I struggled through the warm-ups, stumbled thorough the steps, and grimaced every time I caught sight of myself in the mirror. There were times when I felt like one of the hippos in Fantasia, but I knew I had to do this to graduate. I wasn’t good, but I kept showing up, and I kept trying. By the end of the class I had a B, and a slightly different perspective. While I still wasn’t a dancer, I had tried something new and the world hadn’t ended. After that, little by little, I started allowing myself to try new things. I auditioned for an improve troupe (yes, I know, I’m not funny). I tried other dance classes (including a tango class). I let myself do something I’d always wanted to and took a singing class. I even horrors took a math class (well technically it was a logic class in the philosophy department and was also required for graduation, but you get the idea). I started realizing that the person who defines me is me, and while it’s true I’ll never dance in Swan Lake, I can bust a move (it’s just one, but still, it’s impressive).
That’s the value of liberal arts education, and in particular the General Education classes that are required. Even though I might have grumbled, I learned something from all the General Education courses I had to take. I learned a little bit of self-discipline, I learned I had skills I didn’t know I possessed, and I learned that every once in a while it was worthwhile to step out of my comfort zone. And yes, I learned the choreography to “Beat it.”