I’ve always viewed being transgender as a massive positive – and one reason is that being this way presents you with opportunities that you just wouldn’t get otherwise. Such as spending a day with some of the best ballet dancers in the country.
I’m friends on Facebook with a lovely trans lady called Sarah. She also happens to love ballet – and she’s pretty awesome at organising things.
So Sarah got together with her pals at the Birmingham LGBT charity and the folks from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and, between them, organised a day of ballet for trans and LGB people.
I was delighted to be invited along last Thursday, and I thought I’d write about what happened here.
So Friday morning arrived and I’d had about two hours’ sleep. Not the greatest start to my day. I half thought about bailing, but I was really looking forward to the event, and so I drank plenty of coffee and got myself ready.
I’m getting better with the makeup – I still use a YouTube tutorial, and I still need to buy a load more stuff, but I’m slowly getting there. Practice makes perfect. Combined with my wig and specs, my face looked not too bad – and pretty natural.
I donned my pink tights and black leotard and then added my Ballet Freak “Merde” T-shirt, a pair of jeans and my flowery Rocket Dog trainers.
And then it was time to head to Birmingham. I left in plenty of time as I thought the traffic would be awful, but fortunately all was OK. Sarah had suggested a car park right opposite Birmingham Royal Ballet and I got in there with no problems.
A few selfies later and I got out of the car, feeling a lot more confident than on my first foray out during daytime a week earlier, for my gender clinic appointment, and crossed the road.
There in reception was Ros Gammie, from Birmingham LGBT. We’d been emailing each other beforehand, so it was nice to put a face to the name. I also met Sophie Rebecca for the first time – we’ve been emailing each other for months.
For those who don’t know, Sophie is the first trans person to take RAD ballet exams. She’s an amazing inspiration and has featured in loads of newspapers and magazines, and on TV.
So we had a big hug, and then I met everyone else – some transwomen and everyone else I assume lesbian, gay or bi.
After a little while, we were greeted by Kasia Kraus, from Birmingham Royal Ballet. She’s really lovely and works as the company’s community and schools engagement officer.
Then it was time to get changed ahead of our dance class while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive – I think there were 14 of us.
We’d been told already that we had the option of using whichever changing room we preferred. As well as the female and male ones, there was a smaller gender-neutral one.
I chose the female room, as did two other women, one of them trans. Getting changed was easy as I’d already got my tights and leotard on, so I just slipped off my jeans and T-shirt and swapped my pumps for ballet slippers. Ready!
Then I headed down a flight of stairs and entered the ballet studio. I was really excited. Here I was sitting in this huge room of mirrors and barres, with its gorgeous sprung floor and shiny black piano in one corner – and I was going to dance here.
I wasn’t just going to dance at the Birmingham Royal Ballet – I was going to dance WITH the Birmingham Royal Ballet – well, one of them anyway. And that was Iain Mackay, principal dancer with the company and a male dance ambassador for the RAD.
We were introduced to him by Kasia and then the class began – with a pianist, too. By this point, we’d been joined by lovely Sarah and a few other people who’d arrived a little later. Sophie and another lady were doing a few stretches while the rest of us sat down and chatted.
We began with some barre work – nothing too complicated – pliés, tendus and the like. At one point, I was picked out by Iain, who praised my straight legs when we were doing tendus. I was absolutely thrilled!
Then it was time for centre work. My ballet teacher, Miss Anna, had told me that I should go right to the front and just dance my heart out and enjoy myself. I’d told her I wouldn’t feel confident enough for that, but that’s exactly what I did. It’s amazing how much more confident I feel now, in so many respects, compared to a few weeks ago.
With the barre work, I just kept looking at my reflection in those mirrors, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was dancing with one of the country’s top professional ballet companies and I was LOVING it!
So, into the centre we went. I stayed at the front throughout and I loved it. We started with a few pirouettes and then learned two actual dances – one from Coppelia and another from Carmina Burana.
I won’t say I danced perfectly, because I didn’t. But I remembered most of the moves and I tried so hard. I was in my element. I just couldn’t stop smiling, and Iain was such a lovely guy and a great teacher. There was loads of banter between him, me and others.
The second dance seemed more contemporary than the first one – it had a few Beyonce-esque hand moves (Iain named them the Beyonce moves after I pointed this out!), and a sort of Pulp Fiction hand gesture.
And then it was all over. We’d been dancing for 90 minutes, but the time had really flown by. No curtseys, but we gave Iain – and ourselves – a huge round of applause.
Back to the changing room with the other two ladies, and this time there was a little more flesh on show as leotards and tights were removed and replaced, in my case, with more natural coloured tights, denim miniskirt and my white and navy stripey lacy top – same outfit I wore to my gender clinic appointment.
It felt a little odd slipping on a bra – and then adding breast forms in front of two people I’d never met before – but, as one of my friends always says, feel the fear and do it anyway!
Then Kasia gave us a guided tour of the ballet studios. I remember seeing at least three studios, including the one we danced in. Our paths crossed with ballerinas and male dancers quite a few times. We also got to see all the offices, and the costume department. The dresses down there were so beautiful.
Then it was lunchtime. Some of the group left at this point, but the rest of us walked out into the street and round the corner to an ace LGBT-friendly cafe called Cakes and Ladders. I didn’t eat as it was a Thursday (Slimming World weigh-in day) and the only options were sandwiches and pastries. The coffee was excellent, though, and came in a bag – like a teabag!
After that, Sarah gave us a quick tour of Birmingham LGBT, including the basement, which she’s hoping to turn into a dance studio. It has the mirrors already. She also wants to launch an LGBT ballet group, which I’d love to have joined were it not so far away from where I live.
And then we were treated to a live matinee performance of Coppelia just round the corner at Birmingham Hippodrome, a stunning old theatre. It’s a ballet I’d not seen before, and it was beautiful, funny and completely awe-inspiring.
Perhaps the best part of being at the Hippodrome from a personal point of view was the fact that nobody stared – again! And each time this happens, I get a shed load more confidence.
After the recent terror attacks, everyone entering had their bags checked, so there was quite a queue in the foyer. Most of the audience was made up of middle-aged and older people. Nobody stared. Not one.
There were two intervals. During the first, I pushed myself to leave my seat and go for a walk. So that’s what I did, mingling on the mezzanines with everyone else. I only got one look – and that was from a guy. But I think he just fancied me!
I headed to the bar and ordered a glass of wine. I think the barmaid clocked me – but only when I spoke. Must work on this voice of mine! Then I went and sat down and drank my pinot grigio, feeling completely confident and comfortable. I even popped to the ladies’, again without issue.
And then I did it all again in the second interval. Hundreds of people milling about but no funny stares, no nudges, no winks, nothing.
And so the perfect day came to an end as we said our goodbyes – and hugs for Sarah, Sophie and a lovely lady named Ruth, who was also part of the group. Sorry, I forget the others’ names! It had been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’d grabbed it with both hands.
I’d also like to say a massive, massive thank-you to Sarah, Birmingham LGBT and Birmingham Royal Ballet for organising it. You’re all stars.