Why do you dance?
When I was nine years old, I attended my first ballet class. Why? Because my mom signed me up. Every Wednesday at 5:30, I walked into the studio and did simple exercises for one hour, thanked the teacher, and went on with my week. I thought nothing of it, until one fateful day. I remember standing in the hallway watching the older girls performing an adagio in the other studio. I was enthralled by the way they moved, by their flawless promenades and développés (although I wouldn’t learn what those steps were called for a while) and the beautiful music that accompanied them. I wanted to be able to dance like that, I decided. And so it began.
After that first push, I discovered other reasons to love ballet. I started using it as an outlet for my feelings. Ballet helps me release my pent up emotions without harming anyone in the process. Instead of bursting into tears at the end of a bad day, I learned to channel my negative energies into my dancing. This enriches my movement and imbues it with feeling, and my artistry grows because of it.
One thing inevitably lead to another, and I began using ballet as a regular escape. I would become Clara, an innocent girl on a great adventure. I could be Giselle for a day, heartbroken yet forgiving. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find myself as Kitri, spunky and passionate, or even as the firebird, burning to dance.
Some people ask me why I ‘chose’ dance. I think some of them expect a cheesy response like, ‘I didn’t choose dance, it chose me.’ The truth is, neither of us had a choice in the matter. I was destined to dance the way a caterpillar is destined to become a butterfly. Even though it seems preordained to me, I still make thousands of choices in the studio every day. Do I work hard, or slack off because I’m tired? Should I resent my teacher for singling me out or take his corrections with a smile? This, not talent or training, is what makes me a dancer.
On some days, I feel that my love for ballet is unrequited. My body isn’t that of the stereotypical ballerina. My feet are not as arched as I’d like them to be; my legs aren’t long enough, et cetera. I have to remember that none of that matters very much, it’s all about the way you dance. Perfect turnout means nothing if you don’t have any expression, and flawless fouettés will only take you so far. I constantly have to remind myself that talent is nothing without hard work, and that if I work hard I will succeed, because that’s the nature of ballet.
Ballet isn’t perfect turnout or seven pirouettes. Ballet isn’t tutus and sequins and curtain calls. Ballet is blood, sweat, and tears. Ballet is aching muscles and ragged breaths. Ballet is painful. Ballet is demanding. Ballet is hard.
And yet, I find myself returning to the studio again and again.
Because ballet is beauty. Ballet is self expression. Ballet is a feeling you hold in your heart or display to an audience. Ballet is getting back up when you fall down. Ballet is all this and more because it means something different to every single person.
Ballet is the reason I wake up in the morning. Ballet is what makes me whole.