growing into my body: or, too much information on my ballet years

**Disclaimer: I apologize for any horrible grammar or misspellings or weird words that aren’t quite the words I meant to type or anything that makes no sense whatsoever.  It’s 4:47am as I post this, so I don’t really feel like proofreading for fear of my laptop falling onto the floor from my raised bed as I fall asleep.**

For eight years I danced.  I took ballet for all eight, clogging for two, and jazz for one.  Dance was such a huge part of my life, and I often wish I still took dance and think about how much I miss ballet.  But, and I admit this is a fairly recent revelation, I realized that dance is definitely one of those things I remember more fondly than I felt at the time.  And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, which I’ll get to (pardon the bad grammar).

I never quite “fit in,” because I started dance when I was 6 ½, well beyond the two-year-old once-babies wandering aimlessly onstage at recitals who were now the same age as me.  And I was such an awkward kid — still am a bit, but much less than I used to be — and very shy.  While I was good at what I did, and was one of the tallest girls in my class (ideal for a ballerina), I grew increasingly unhappy as more time passed and I wasn’t put on pointe.  My teacher kept insisting my ankles needed to get stronger.

I was nine, an extremely horrible and awkward age for anyone, and with my changing hormones began my depression that had me sobbing at video games and sobbing in school for no good reasons — depression that I’m sure would manifest itself much more often and much stronger than it does now that I’m on medicine for it.  But the fact that others were being put on pointe and I wasn’t when I felt I was just as good as they were just added to my growing depression.

I began hating Tuesdays, the day I had ballet; I was miserable, on the verge of tears every second of class, and came extremely close to quitting, had talked with my mom, who saw how depressed it really made me.  Then the best news came at the end of the 1998-1999 dance year: my teacher declared me ready for pointe at last.

I loved every aspect of pointe, even the pain of being on one’s toes for so long and soaking my feet afterward, even sewing in the ribbons with dental floss.  Lacing up the shoes was an amazing feeling and I read tons of books — one in particular over and over — on the technique of ballet en pointe and practiced constantly.  My first recital on pointe was one in which we performed the story of Hansel & Gretel.  I was one of the angels, and while I was disappointed I didn’t get the part of Hansel or Gretel, I was utterly thrilled to finally dance on my toes.

But as the years grew, my self-esteem drooped.  I had trouble fitting comfortably into the costumes, either because the chest was too tight or too low, or the waist was too small.  I kept growing while others around me stayed the same weight.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that once I’d surpassed 130 lbs., I would never be that 120 or less that is such an ideal weight for ballet dancers.  In 2002, I tried out for the Alabama School of Fine Arts’ dance program, and got rejected.  That was one of the most disappointing moments in my life, especially because I felt like I was really good at dance, and ended up making the dance team my eighth grade year at WJC.  And it turned out to be a blessing, because I got into JCIB, where my life certainly took a turn for the better.

However, I finally decided that the combination of a) Beverly’s moving out to Clay-Chalkville, much more inconvenient from my house, b) the sheer workload of school, even though I wasn’t a good student until my junior year at IB, c) my teacher of so many years leaving to be replaced with a girl whose ballet style was NOT what I wanted to learn, and d) my overall unhappiness was enough to make me quit.  So, for my next-to-last recital with Beverly’s, I performed a dance with my class, and a solo.  The solo was to the love theme from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.  Don’t judge me; I was fourteen, and it’s a really pretty song (thanks, John Williams), called “Across the Stars.”

And if I didn’t know that was the near-end of my ballet career then, I’m not sure what would have convinced me.  Not that I got worse, because I didn’t (even if I did have a stumble in one of my two performances of the solo, but hey, that happens), but because I had to bind my chest in not one, but two ace bandages.  It was one of the most humiliating experiences, because the dress/costume I used was a light fabric and you could see the ace bandages bunched up.  Honestly, the emphasis is obviously on the feet of the dancer, and the grace, etc., but I felt like everyone was judging me for my weight.  I felt obese, which is ridiculous if you’ve seen me.  Curvy?  Yes.  Obese?  Hardly.

I knew I wasn’t overweight when my doctor reassured me I was fine, but every time I had ballet and had to stare in the mirror at myself, it only magnified my low self-esteem and body issues.  I compared myself to the other taller, skinnier girls, girls who didn’t have to worry about the costume not fitting right, girls who didn’t have to suck in their stomachs to be the “ballerina type.”  I never turned to anorexia or bulimia, but I’m fairly certain that if I’d kept dancing, it would have happened.  So, I quit, and I haven’t regretted it since, although I do wish I could still dance but not feel self-conscious about it.

I thought my major body issues were over.  I kept thinking of how I could lose weight but I still thought I looked fine, just defined myself as “curvy,” but then I took a ballet class here at Montevallo.  I was already somewhat skeptical going into it, because it was Beginning Ballet, and if anything, I was NOT a beginner.  So, I figured because I had taken dance for so long, I would have nothing to be self-conscious about.  However, when I entered the room, I paused while staring at myself in the mirror.

Something about the huge mirrors in dance rooms and what’s expected of a ballerina collide in my head and brought all these horrible insecurities and irrational thoughts gushing to the forefront of my mind.  I’m sure nobody else even noticed, much less cared, about my less-than-ballerinaesque figure, and I was even one of the two most advanced girls in the class — even asked to choreograph the end-of-semester dance with the other girl! — but I couldn’t take it, couldn’t take the pressure instilled in me from so many years of being self-conscious of everything ever flawed with my body, and dropped the class.  I felt bad for letting down the other girl who was choreographing and the class in general because I know I could have helped.  But I definitely think it was the healthy choice to make.

Still, so much of my body makes me unhappy.  Once I cried on the phone to Joseph for a good hour or more about all my issues concerning my weight and my figure, and all sorts of things.  For the most part, I think I’m over the extreme self-consciousness and only focus on one thing at a time, and losing weight just to be healthier and not necessarily to change the way I look.  Let’s face it: I was not born to be a ballerina — at least not a ballerina by modern ballet’s standards.  One of the reasons I wear the pants size I do is because of my hips — not something I can change.  And you know, I think I’m okay with that.  It’s a daily struggle, finding more good things about my body than bad, but I’m working on it.

Isn’t that all we can do?  Sometimes I still don my last pair of pointe shoes and dance and practice until my toes can’t take it anymore.  No mirrors, except the full-length one on the bathroom door on my bedroom door at home to see the angle of my arabesque or attitude.  And it feels really great.  This is the kind of ballet experience I wish I could always have.  And I can, as long as I fit into my pointe shoes.


One thought on “growing into my body: or, too much information on my ballet years

  1. Pingback: “You’re another person, so of course you look different. What do you need to be ashamed for?” -Ciel Phantomhive « License to Spill

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