I have been back to full out dancing (pointe shoes, jumps, and all!) for a week now, and there is one word that perfectly describes the way I feel: OUCH.
My whole body hurts, in that great, dull achey way that makes me get up out of bed to take more pain killers before adjusting into 5 different
strange and questionably circus-worthy totally normal positions before falling asleep. It’s a hot, all over soreness that I can only imagine must be a release from the throats of my muscles as they sing their post-hibernation song.
As displayed by the above photo, my ballet shoes are humming quite a different tune. When holes have their own holes and your delicate calluses become exposed to sticky marly floors and you can’t afford another trip to the dance store, drastic measures must be taken. Enter thick thread and my expert sewing skillz. Beat that, Martha Stewart.
The best part about working full-time again? Those crazy little endorphins. You guys, they are just lovely. I was running across the studio, practicing some sotashas for this one piece (apparently I was doing a strange chasé, run run run, chasé again preparation of sorts, resulting in what appeared to be pure comical entertainment for my boss), and laughing at myself as I zoomed from one end of the studio to the other when I realized I am running. And JUMPING. And laughing! It’s the simple things in life that sometimes make you the happiest.
In the 2004 film, Mean Girls, (also known as Lindsay Lohan’s final masterpiece before hopping the train to Crazy Town), Lohan’s character, Cady, is enrolled in an advanced calculus class, and later joins the mathletes (also known as social suicide). When Cady’s new “too gay to function” best friend, Damien, asks her why she likes math, Cady gets real deep on us; “Because it’s the same in ever country.” Woah. That’s some existential shit right there.
Being the type of girl who is completely on board with anything written by Tina Fey and starring Rachel McAdams, I couldn’t help but think of the Mean Girls quote all week. Gorgeous guest artists from around the globe gathered in Providence for FBP’s Together We Dance gala this Thursday, and while taking company class with the crayola-box collection of beautiful ballet creatures, I realized just how much Cady’s concept relates to ballet. It’s the same in every country. Why had I never made this comparison before?!
An overwhelming amount of the earth’s population is slightly confused about ballet. Can you stand on your toes? Have you ever met Natalie Portman? But then there’s this momentous demographic of people who not only understand ballet, but live and breathe it every day. To us, fondue will never be a pot of melting cheese. A dance belt does not require belt loops. The word bar(re) reminds us more of work than play. Whether you grew up in Japan, Australia, Lithuania, Russia, Canada, or the good ol’ US of A, if you’re a ballet dancer, you know the difference between Paquita and Don Quixote- and the disastrous shame of Kitri having a fan-drop (I shutter at the thought). It really puts some perspective on the world and how connected we can be when we share this bizarre, highly specific addiction.
Oh hey, there, locker full of sweaty ballet shoes and rogue leg warmers. Nice to see you again. We’ve only been back at this thing for 2 1/2 days and already you’re in need of a good clean-out. Seriously, you stink. It’s only just the middle of the ballet week and somehow it feels like mid-November. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that our Nutcracker rehearsals started last night. Yup. Day two and we already get to hear those little flute trills as the first few snowflakes sauté onto the stage…but it’s 88 degrees outside!…too soon. But hey, that’s the life of a ballet dancer, right? Always working on what’s next…
Me, I’m doing a whole lot of this:
Looks relaxing, doesn’t it? I wish. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again; The hardest part of being an injured dancer is not dancing.
Growing up, I never missed a ballet class. Save the occasional stomach ache or family commitment, I was dancing every day after school and you can bet your butt I woke up every damn Saturday morning to trade in cartoons for ballet combinations (with a little help from my mom, I admit). Leaving class early and being MIA from rehearsal does not sit well with me, and yet neither does sitting out to watch.
I’ve been hearing this for a while now: Take care of yourself. Go slowly. You have the right to refuse anything. Don’t push it. You’ve come so far. I know. You’re right. I should take my time. Rest. Slowly retrain my body. This all makes sense. But it has been so long. My friends are all complaining about their sore hips, tight calves and bruised toenails, and I couldn’t be more jealous. To keep myself from shedding a pathetic little tear as I tuck my pointe shoes a little deeper into the
cozy bed dingy locker they’ve been living in all summer, I’m trying to look on the bright side of things. I mean, this is a prime opportunity to tweak my problem areas (if I don’t come out of this recovery period with a relaxed neck and shoulders, so help me…) and enjoy the luxury of a slow-paced return to ballet, a concept that is about as unlikely as ordering clam chowder in Paris.
I’m sitting onstage, barefoot, rolling imaginary cigars on my tightless thighs to the firey score of Carmen. I look out into the rows and rows of plush red seats that I know are there but can’t see because they’re draped in that familiar black opening night blanket. Absently, I contemplate the misguiding apparent endlessness of the house. So much space. The dancer next to me springs up off her stool, flinging her lycra skirt up with her, subsequently hitting me in the face and reminding me to listen for my cue. These next few counts of eight have not yet worked their way into the overstuffed suitcase of my muscle memory. This next sequence of beautifully obscure movements requires that I focus on nothing else but this. When I finally hear my golden note, it doesn’t come as a surprise; I’ve listened for this cue every day for weeks. Concentrate. I toss my invisible half-rolled cigar behind me and jump to my feet. Running towards Kristina, my partner in this little pas de deux, I notice she looks different. Then, in an instant, she comes closer, and I see it’s not Kristina rushing my way, it’s me. Slightly confused, I continue towards center stage, this is the professional approach briefly floods my mind. Now I’m on the center X, face to face with me, partnering myself and making my own mirror. Before I have the chance to catch my own gaze, I assume the vision of the immense audience and I’m starting to realize this is not real. I am not here.
I wake myself up. I’m lying in bed. It doesn’t take long for my harsh reality to set in: I am not in the midst of performing Plotnikov’s Carmen. I have not danced in over 3 months. I have a stress fracture in my spine. My heart drops past the broken bone into my hips. It’s strange how some dreams only become nightmares after you wake up.
These dance withdrawals get worse with every passing day outside the studio. Today I was surprised with the less-than-spectacular news that I may have multiple fractures in my back. Yippee. My optimism is waning. I just want to dance. I’m clinging to any and all hope I can. Some dancers spend years recovering from their injuries, I tell myself. But this just suggests these few months may only be the tip of the iceberg. How do I put an end to the ghosts of performances past haunting my sleep? I guess I could stop watching so many dance-related videos before bed. But they do help fill that big empty dance gap! So what’s a girl to do?