Once a ballerina…

24 Sep

No matter where you end up in life, if you were once a ballerina, you’ll always be a ballerina.

I'm on the right, probably 8 or 9 years old in Bay Shore Ballet's production of "Peter and the Wolf."

I’m on the right, probably 8 or 9 years old in Bay Shore Ballet’s production of “Peter and the Wolf.”

I know a lot of women who were serious about dance, especially ballet, growing up and in high school—a handful who went pro, and many others who gave up ballet for one reason or another. But I’ve realized that they’re all still ballerinas somehow.

I’m still a ballerina in my head, even though I haven’t worn a tutu in years and my pointe shoes sit abandoned in my dance bag. But I remain that ballerina because of all of the important lessons I learned from my 16-plus years of ballet, and continue to learn from taking class when I can.

Me in Mobile Ballet's production of "Dracula" in 2009.

Me in Mobile Ballet’s production of “Dracula” in 2009.

You learn that failure is imminent

But you do it anyways. The likelihood that you will execute every turn perfectly or hit every balance is highly unlikely. Every step you take in a ballet class has the potential to fail, but ballerinas just go for it regardless. If they let fear of failure hold them back, they would never get anywhere. And more importantly, ballerinas learn from their failures and quickly apply what they learned. If they fall out of a turn, they make subtle shifts and changes almost instantaneously so that the next time they turn, it will be a little closer to perfect—they may get an extra rotation or hit a more graceful landing.

Although my performance was "Strings and Salsa," I couldn't resist doing some ballet.

Although my performance was “Strings and Salsa,” I couldn’t resist doing some ballet.

You are your greatest obstacle

While there is a lot of competition between other dancers in ballet, ballerinas understand that at the end of the day, you are your biggest competitor. Ballet class is an exercise in not letting yourself stand in your own way. It’s fighting against whatever physical limitations you believe you have, and learning to overcome them. I always respect and learn from other dancers I’m taking class with, but realize that to ever make any progress, I have to stop comparing myself with them and take responsibility for myself alone.

Me as a peasant girl in Mobile Ballet's production of "Giselle." One thing I don't miss about ballet is always being a peasant girl.

Me as a peasant girl in Mobile Ballet’s production of “Giselle.” One thing I don’t miss about ballet is always being a peasant girl.

You learn to fly

Jumping, leaping, balancing, even turning– you learn to defy gravity, if  just for a split second. There is nothing more satisfying than a grand allegro, soaring through the air seemingly weightless, solely because you propelled yourself there. Your success, your flight, your upward motion is entirely because you put in all of the work.

This is the most satisfying feeling in the world.

This is the most satisfying feeling in the world.

As you get stronger, it gets harder

One of my favorite teachers said that she was teaching a little girl recently and my teacher told the little girl, “You know, as you get stronger, ballet gets harder.” The little girl replied, “That’s mean!”

The cute story illustrated a point that I think is what makes ballet dancers “steel magnolias” (to mix metaphors): as you get stronger, it gets harder. The difference though, is that you can handle it, precisely because you are stronger.

When you’re a younger ballerina, you work to develop the necessary strength to go en pointe. Then ballet gets harder—you have to realign your entire center of gravity to balance on a narrow inch or two, suffer blisters, battle tendonitis, etc.

You get comfortable en pointe and then begin to learn variations and choreography. It gets harder. You need more stamina, more strength. But you can do it, because you’re stronger.

This concept applies so beautifully in life as well as in ballet, and is why I truly believe that once you’re a ballerina, you’re always a ballerina. You go through experiences—whether a bad breakup, a horrible boss, or a debilitating injury— and you get stronger mentally and spiritually. However, the stronger you get, the tougher your problems become. They seem more “real”—the stakes are higher, the consequences more dire. Earlier in life, you weren’t strong enough to handle them—the muscles in your ankles weren’t developed enough to wear pointe shoes without injury, so to speak. But you get stronger in direct proportion to the difficulty of the situation. And you learn how to do it all so gracefully. Ballerinas realize that it will only continue to get harder… the choreography grows increasingly complex or more stamina is required to last through a three-hour ballet…but at the same time, you will continue to get stronger.

Hell, if it were easy, it’d be football.

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