Taking ballet gives you a heightened awareness of your body. This is both good and bad. Because nothing goes unnoticed.
During class, there is careful (and sometimes brutal) examination of the physique. When moving from first to second to fifth positions I often wonder, "Are my toes pointed enough?" "How do my fingertips look right now?" "Do my arms and legs move to the music?" "How's my turnout?"
On good days, I see my reflection in the mirror and the woman looking back feels deeply connected to her body. She loves every minute of every relevé, tendu and retiré devant -- pretty French words that make her feel pretty. She lands those pirouettes. Her lines are elegant.
On not-so-good days, I look in the mirror and the woman hates me for making her look awkward. Instead of enjoying what her 40-year-old body is capable of, she's dissatisfied with how she looks in a leotard ("My back fat! Oh the horror!"). Her pirouettes don't stick. Her lines are all over the place.
Thankfully, the lows don't hang around for very long.
One night, as I tucked myself into bed, I got the greatest compliment a wanna-be ballerina could ask for. "Wow hon, is that your leg?" my sweet husband asked as he touched my thigh. "It feels like a rock!"
I looked in the full-length mirror the next morning. "Wow is right," I thought as I looked at my inner thighs. "I'll be damned. I can actually see my muscles under there!"
It's been seven months since I first started taking ballet and encouraging things are happening to my body. I feel stronger. Centered. Balanced. I see muscle definition ("Hello, quadriceps! Glad to see you're back!"). Good posture has become everything.
Other things are happening beyond the physical.
Ballet is pushing me. It demands that I do the work and give my best. It's also become my oasis during busy, often hectic, weeks. Once I walk through that studio door I leave everything behind -- my to-do lists, my responsibilities, my worries. It's just me and ballet.
I once read that you should do something every day that scares you. For me, that "scary place" is walking into ballet class as a 40-year-old mother of two. It's putting on a leotard and tights. It's asking my body to turn, spin, leap and jump when there's no guarantee I won't twist my ankle or hurt my pride.
As long as my body keeps up, I will face my fears and conquer them on the dance floor.
It's exactly the place I want to be.
Photos by Carlos Salaff.
Balancing ballet and motherhood. (Slate)