Once upon a time, there was a little ballerina,
Who was the rising star of Miss Gloria’s ballet class. The fact that I was the best was never seriously in dispute. Miss Gloria knew it; I knew it; the other students knew it; their mothers knew it, and if they failed to notice, Mme Mère was there to remind them.
It all started one night when we were gathered around the television watching a beautiful ballerina twirl around on her toes and then slide gracefully to the floor into a split. My ballet-loving father exclaimed in delight, “Isn’t that wonderful?”
With the supreme confidence that a five-year-old has in the ability of her body to do anything she wants it to do, I replied, “I can do that, too.” Whereupon, I got up and dropped to the floor into a perfect split, pointed toes and all.
The next day, Mme Mère enrolled me in ballet school.
Although much too young, for which my ankles have never forgiven me, I was the first in the class to go en pointe. I’ll never forget that glorious moment when I laced those pink satin ribbons around my tiny ankles and rose on my toes on two blocks of wood for the first time. The pain was excruciating! Nobody told me about that part.
Nobody told me that that beautiful ballerina floating across the floor is bourréeing on bleeding toes, blisters, corns and ingrown toenails. The ballet dancer has a dysfunctional relationship with her own body. On the one hand, she obsesses over how it looks while executing the minutest of moves, and on the other hand, she totally ignores the messages her body sends. As the years pass, the messages (sprains, pulled muscles, torn ligaments and snapped ham strings) become more insistent, but the ballerina ignores them and learns to live with and dance in pain.
I moved on from Miss Gloria’s class to private teachers, who were all enthusiastic about my future as a dancer. But, eventually, after yet another, painful ankle injury, I decided I had had enough and hung up my toe shoes for good. Mme Mère never forgave me and never missed an opportunity to tell me that, were my father still alive, it would kill him.
I never regretted my decision to stop dancing, but I look back on my years as Miss Gloria’s golden girl with a mixture of fondness and a sense of loss. Never again would I have that invincible conviction that being the best at something was simply the natural consequence of putting forth my best effort.
So, were my years at the barre wasted, as Mme Mère complained? Jamais de la vie!!
You can take away my toe shoes, but you can’t take away the life lessons I learned in ballet class – grace, discipline and balance.
And to this day, when standing in regular shoes, I often look down to see myself in full turn out. Somehow, it still feels natural. My husband calls it “duck feet.”
You know, it’s funny, but every once in a while, someone will say to me, “You move so gracefully. Were you a dancer?”
To which I reply, “Once upon a time, I was Miss Gloria’s golden girl.”