Today I forgot my knee brace, the thing I call my ‘external connective tissue.’ I didn’t notice it was missing until the class was three quarters over, and only then because I bent to stretch with my hands on my knees. Instead of thick, industrial elastic and nylon I felt … a knee, and one that didn’t hurt. A not-so-small victory.
But let’s not push our luck, my mind said, let’s not jump. My heart countered: But why not just try? Because now the music had started; my muscles were aching for a crack at petit allegro. Just this once. So I wound up jumping, carefully, but not tentatively. Not too high, but boldly, and with épaulement—loads of épaulement! My knee, miraculously, went along with the program. No ginching, no sharp pain, no kidding. Is it possible that I’ve learned to dance for maintenance and longevity after all? That this dancing-again thing isn’t just a flash in the pan, a backward glance in an old, cracked mirror?
I think I get to keep you, after all, Ballet. You’re part of my routine again—tights, leotard, pink satin shoes. When people say, “Do you dance?” the answer is no longer, “Back in the day I did,” but “Yes.” A simple question with a simple answer.
Sure, my sense of triumph is tempered slightly when I acknowledge that, at my age, this probably as good as it gets. Performing Swan Lake, Agon, Concerto Barocco—all my favorite ballets—that part is over. But I feel like I’ve come home to myself.
Granted, when I look in the mirror to check my line—really look, not glance or squint—what I see is something that only vaguely resembles what I once looked like. That discrepancy could be pretty painful if I let it get to me. But since that first day, when I chose to waste precious moments of my life obsessing about my thigh-width, I’ve banished that sort of thinking from this process. Regardless of how I measure up to the old, professional-dancing me, I won’t hate this me or her non-twenty-year-old-sylph body. The fact that I can still do this on any level is too thrilling to lament a loss of extension, or a gain of pounds. So I won’t. (Okay maybe I will sometimes but I vow to stop when I catch myself.) When I leave ballet class each week, regardless of how my jeans are fitting that day, I’m less hard on myself, less judgmental. One reason is the confidence that comes from being true to who I am—by letting dance back into my life.
This return to ballet class began as an experiment, something to write about. It wound up healing a part of me that I didn’t know was wounded.
Now that ballet no longer hurts so much, I can’t call myself a masochist anymore, which is why this is the final post in the “To Dance Again” series. Nevertheless, all this writing about dance has inspired me to dust off something I’ve had in ‘My Documents’ for some time now. A ballet novel, for which I’ve already got a cast of characters I’m in love with, a setting and even a few chapters. (My first novel, Birch Wood Doll, is about a ballet dancer, but it’s not a ballet novel). I won’t say more about the new work here, but it’s calling me. I’ll put the “Dissociative Identity Disorder” novel on hold for now, pace myself with this blog, stop worrying about my newish Twitter account and let this new book happen.