Growth

dance… and the hell with who’s watching

I’m dancing again.

No, I haven’t dashed off to join a modern dance company performing in abandoned warehouses… I’m not strapping on tap shoes for a night at the theatre… I’m not wiggling into a tutu and facing the burning spotlights… nope, I’m just taking classes again. After far more years than I’d like to admit.

At the Barre

At the Barre

Blame it on my ‘Year 40’ new leaf of no excuses & doing things that scare me or that I wouldn’t otherwise do. Blame it on a few too many episodes of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and sighing wistfully for “those days”. Blame it on a realization that I am getting older, regardless of how I feel inside, and “someday” is a stupid waste of breath. Blame it on hating most exercise with a passion. Blame it on one particular friend who’s relentless & once she saw my (still, after all this time) foot-extension would not stop pushing me to get back to class & stop wasting it.

Or… just say I finally realized I wanted back in.

I grew up a dancer. And while I took some jazz, a smattering of tap, and was on my dance team at school, I was all about Ballet. I didn’t just dabble… I’m not one of those girls who says “Yeah, I used to be a dancer” and what they really mean is that they took some classes for a couple years & then got bored. No. I started ballet classes just about from the time I could stand, and I didn’t quit… not for nearly 20 years.

Baby Ballerina

Baby Ballerina

I went from “this is how you stand in first position” all the way to performing with a professional ballet company [disclaimer: I wasn’t a member of the company, I just performed with them]. I had a string of brilliant teachers, one even a former Prima with the Bolshoi. At the height of my time in ballet, I was dancing 5-6 days a week, 3-4+ hours a day. I was serious.

It made sense to me. Ballet was the perfect mix of absolute precision and set-in-stone rules combined with stunning beauty and creativity. It spoke to both sides of who I was, and I understood it. Perfectly. What I did NOT understand was the ‘business’ of ballet. I didn’t understand the environment or the politics. I didn’t get why the most talented person wasn’t necessarily the one who would get cast… or why there was so much back-biting and pettiness. I didn’t understand why this beautiful art form, and the people in it, would tear people to pieces… But I kept dancing.

Precision

Precision

As I grew older, and puberty took firm hold, it became obvious that I wasn’t built like the ‘ideal’ ballerina. I wasn’t willowy… I didn’t have tiny arms & legs that stretched for days… I had curves and mass. I was strong. Powerful. I could leap across the room like the guys – a warrior woman in a leotard… and turns were the bane of my existence. As much as I practiced, I could not spin like a top, effortlessly, the way my fellow dancers could. Things are changing in the business, now, and there are some ballerinas out there who are breaking new ground & shattering the rules of what’s “acceptable” in a professional, but when I was in the midst of it that wasn’t the case.

So I knew I’d never be a career ballerina.

The 'perfect' Ballerina

The ‘perfect’ Ballerina

It was a blow when I realized that, but around the same time I was coming to the truth of it, I also suffered a fairly serious knee injury and started expanding my interests to include other aspects of performing. So I had a buffer. But even with that, I felt as though a piece of who I was had been torn away. It hurt, and it wasn’t too many years later that I actually stopped dancing altogether… I told myself that “life” got in the way.

There are always excuses… for anything that’s hard to do. There are reasons to quit, not try, brush it off… and I’m not immune – CLEARLY. I’ve listened to the negative for many years. There were some legitimate reasons, too – time, money, distance, transportation, health… but more often than not those were temporary and when they were no longer an issue I didn’t jump at the opportunity to change.

Grace & Beauty

Grace & Beauty

And although it may seem like the most minor thing in the world to someone else… “Just go to a dance class. What’s the big deal?” – For me, it is a big deal. I’m scared. My body doesn’t move the way it did when I was last dancing. I was able to do things effortlessly that now I’m only able to do partially. I’m not the size I was when last I pulled on tights and a leotard… not by a long-shot. I got a little sick to my stomach just walking into the dancewear shop to get new gear.

… but I did it.

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland – Trailblazer

For all the love-hate relationship I have had with ballet, it’s time for me to get on that saddle again. Only this time, I already know I’m not one of ABT’s perfect ballerinas. And I’m comfortable with that. I won’t be a professional, I likely won’t even perform again… and I’m ok with that, too. I may never again be the size to be gracefully lifted into the air by a dance partner – though I can hope so – and even THAT is just fine.

Because I’m not the girl I once was. I’m older, wiser, stronger… and I make of my world what I wish it to be. I’m not a slender teenager with graceful arms and hair tightly pulled into a bun, trying to fit into the mold that someone else built. I’m 40, tattooed, thighs of steel, with a silver streak in my hair and black nail polish. I’m all me.

And now, finally, I can look Ballet square in the eye and say “I’m back, Bitch… and this time, I make the rules.”

My feet... Ready to start Dancing

My feet… Ready to start Dancing

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4 thoughts on “dance… and the hell with who’s watching

  1. Your story is my daughter’s story, right down to the knee injury. Right now she’s in the “life is in the way” stage, but I hope one day she can go back to it,even if just for a little while. There’s a piece of her soul needs retrieving and I think it got left in a dance studio.

    • I hope she finds her way back, too! … I know how tough it can be. Hopefully she’ll get there sooner than I did – this long of being away from it hasn’t done my spirit or my body any good…

      But better late than never! 🙂

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