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The Ballet Analogy

This morning I took a ballet class, something I told myself I didn’t have time for. Yet, my soul’s nudge kept coming in for me to show up. As I stood at the barre, all the emotions that I have carried with me since I was a young dancer began to move through me.


I started dancing in eighth grade, a good ten years later than most everyone else at the studio I attended. For my first ever class, my mom pulled me out early of a basketball game and I showed up with a beet red sweaty face and a neon green leotard that still had leaves attached to it from the time I was poison ivy for halloween. I felt embarrassed as every other girl was sweat free with tidy buns and dressed in their hunter green leotards but as the music began, it was though I was being transported to another dimension and my body knew what to do. I was immediately hooked and forced my mom to buy me the correct attire before we left that day and signed up to return three afternoons a week. 


Dance became the space that allowed me to release the stress of school, the feelings of being left out and where I could be myself. I loved it and my teachers saw how much it was part of me. I was craving more and more of it so I began trying out other studios, one of which wanted me to start pointe work right away, so eagerly I switched studios and began dancing there. I had always been interested in so many different things, that, even after dropping several sports during my freshman year of high school, I was still playing softball and soccer as well as doing musical theater and now ballet too. A professional dancer who led a few intensives took me under his wing and shared that I could have a career in dance if that's what I wanted, however, I would need to pour everything into it, which meant pausing all my other activities.


The momentum that dance instilled in me was life changing and I eagerly gave up everything to focus solely on ballet. I realized that it was time to return to my original studio so that I could dance six days a week and be surrounded by other dancers who would push me to be better. What I didn’t anticipate was the seclusion from them. As I began to dance at a higher level, I was with girls who had been dancing together since they were young and they weren’t thrilled that I had started so late in life and was already in their class. They were all a bit younger than me so I told myself that I just needed to move up to the level with girls my age. I didn’t let their unwelcoming stance bother me too much and focused specifically on my craft. Soon enough my abilities were recognized again, and I moved up to the highest level with the dancers who were my age.


I was ecstatic to join them, ready to find my peers and to get serious about being a dancer. My very first day I arrived early wearing a brand new bright blue leotard as we were finally allowed to wear whatever color we desired. As I walked in, I noticed some girls stretching and sewing their pointe shoes. One or two waved hello and I dropped my bag, eager to make new connections, but then, another girl looked up and glared at me. She proceeded to call all the other girls to join in a circle, everyone except me.


I sat alone, fighting back the tears as my dream of belonging crumbled before my eyes. My sweet sixteen-year-old self couldn’t understand, and yet, what I did understand quickly, was that any attention I received from teachers caused more glares from this particular dancer. I began to make myself smaller, not wanting to be noticed. I overthought every leotard to wear, every combination I danced, every single move I made, and slowly but surely the spark of belonging that had brought me to dance originally, vanished. I stopped believing in myself yet kept dancing because it felt like the only identity I had; since I had given up everything else. The only time I enjoyed myself was when I would return to my other studio for a special adult class with my favorite teacher where everyone cheered me on. 


As I auditioned to be a dance major in college, I was convinced that everything would change in a new setting. The first school I auditioned for offered me early acceptance and wanted to highlight me in my abilities as a ballet dancer. However I was so used to hiding in the background, I opted for the school that rejected me on my first audition; where I was only admitted after a second attempt. Once I started to dance at school, the feeling of inferiority didn’t diminish, in fact, it multiplied. As much as I wanted to blame everything on the girl who left me out of the circle, she was only a reflection of the disbelief I had in myself. I had become so used to the sensation of believing that I wasn’t good enough that I continued to place myself in it over and over again, not only in my school choice but through all decisions I faced. 


Standing at the barre today, decades of not only muscle memory but of all of the memories and old stories moving through my body. I realized how quickly I go back to the same constriction I once had: my inner critic telling me: “you’re not good enough” when I forgot a step (or twenty). And although I am not that 16 year old girl anymore, those stories of not being good enough and not belonging still rears its head, not only at the barre but off of it too, especially when I am on the path to succeeding. My humanness remembers how I too was on the path to being a great dancer and how I was stopped in my tracks.


Marianne Williamson says: “our greatest fear isn’t that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are brilliant beyond measure.” Because whether our story took place in a dance studio or on the yard of a middle school or wherever else our younger selves stood when we first questioned our own belief in ourselves, that little voice can come creeping out again to tell us we aren’t good enough or powerful enough or smart enough or pretty enough. And when that voice comes, it’s not the voice we once heard someone else say to us, it’s our own voice we said to ourselves over and over again that made us believe that we can’t be brilliant beyond measure.


What I have learned through the years is to welcome the voice but not to listen to it. For when it arises, it’s here to release an old pattern of belief that no longer serves us in our current selves. So as the class began, I let that voice taunt for a minute or two until it got bored and faded away. Then I reminded myself to come back into the joy, back into the fun and the original reason I fell in love with ballet, to release all those constraints right there on the dance floor and find the belonging that has always been within.


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