Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ballet at 40 (the leotard)

Trying on a leotard for the first time in 30 years kinda made me feel like
the woman in Picasso's Girl Before A Mirror: grotesque and distorted. 

There's a fine line between a leotard and a sausage casing. I learned this during a recent trip to Capezio, the ubiquitous dancewear store and reckoning point of self esteem.

Here's the thing about taking ballet -- you need to dress the part. Which means you have to wear a skin-tight leotard. Though a dress code isn't mandated for the adults, everyone showed up to the first class in traditional attire. Even the lone guy in my class donned tights. I wore yoga pants and a tank top and felt like a misfit ballerina among my peers.

The next day, I stood before the mirror in the Capezio dressing room with at least a dozen different black leotards staring me down. "Try me! Try me!" they earnestly called out. "Put me on and you'll look and feel like a true ballerina!"

Those damn leotards lied.

I tried every size and every style from halter and camisole to tank and short-sleeved. At 5'1" and 120 lbs I'm usually a size petite, but in the world of ballet apparently I'm gargantuan. I barely got my ass into a small. The medium? Not on Anna Pavlova's life. I took a deep breath and asked the salesgirl to bring me a large and extra-large. 

Here's the other thing about ballet -- you spend A LOT of time looking at yourself in the mirror. Exorbitant, ungodly amounts. I felt pretty low in the dressing room that afternoon. My critical eye examining every flaw -- my flat chest, broad shoulders, flabby midsection and fleshy thighs. The leotard does not lie. 

I showed up to the next class looking like a proper ballet student: the tights, the sheer flowing wraparound skirt, the damn size large leotard. And while I should have felt good about my graceful pliés and beautiful pointed toes I spent the entire hour in self loathing. 

"How was ballet?" my best friend, a wonderful and accomplished dancer, asked later that week. I told her about my disappearing waist, how my leotard accentuated my back fat and how unforgiving it was of my paunch. 

"Ah, yes," she said in that soothing voice I love. "That's the journey every dancer has to make. Doing the work, not just learning the moves and what to do with her body, but the work inside and eventually coming to accept and love her body -- flaws and all."

I turn 40 next month and taking ballet is my proclamation, a testament to myself and to the world that I'm taking my body back. I want to see what I'm capable of. I want to trust in my abilities. I want see how high I can jump, how far I can leap, how many times I can turn.   

And although I wasn't expecting ballet to be a journey of the soul as much as it is an exploration of the body, I look forward to doing all the hard work it requires.   

Making the sweater leotard insanely cool, as only David Bowie can. (Cheezburger)