October 10, 2013 by Nicole
I fell in love hard at about age 12. I was in middle school and completely obsessed in the ways that only a tween girl can be. While I’d always loved dancing and performing, that’s when ballet and I really clicked. I fawned over the vocabulary, the costumes, the shoes – the specificity that is ballet. My idols became the ballet 6 girls – I was in ballet 5 – who I watched with a mix of awe and envy, as they auditioned for parts, summer programs and conservatories. I couldn’t wait to become one of them.
Then the unexpected happened. A series of circumstances changed my experience as an upper level ballet student. The summer after 7th grade, my ballet school closed – the founders moved an hour away, to a larger town, taking our annual local Nutcracker production & access to ballet class with them. My 4-5 days of ballet turned into just 2 classes per week. The next year, that would drop to one. I danced as much as I could, supplementing with jazz and tap classes, competing occasionally and collaborating with other former ballet students to create lyrical and contemporary routines. After attending my first summer intensive at 15, I negotiated a plan to attend classes an hour away, where my original ballet teachers relocated. I passionately pursued ballet, even into my first year in college.
I hit other road blocks – aside from the inconsistencies in my training, I had a body that refused to conform to ballet’s typical aesthetic and of course, injuries. I experienced disappointments in casting and although I earned a dance scholarship my freshman year in college, I was not extended an offer to join a partnership between my university and the local professional ballet company, which culminated in a Professional Training Certificate. I was heartbroken. For the first time, dancing professionally began to feel like a bridge too far for me. I felt like the one thing I loved was slipping away from me. And so I gave it up. At 19, I decided I was no longer a dancer – something that had been my identifier for nearly my whole life.
Flash forward to 10 years later. Now a working professional, I’d spent years pursuing fitness through gyms, yoga and dance-based fitness, while avoiding dance. None of it ever filled the void left by quitting dance. I was creatively frustrated and I never felt either as challenged or as satisfied as I used to after class. I’d been encouraged to try dancing again, but had resisted. When a Groupon came along in the fall of 2012, I decided to try it & see how it felt. I was nervous. My body had changed quite a bit from 19. Would I catch on to the combinations? Would the muscle memory be there? What was the point in putting myself through that again? Was I just going to feel like the old lady in class?
Well, yes. And no. I wasn’t as flexible, my developpe devant was nowhere near as pretty as it used to be, my turnout had suffered, and I barely recognized myself in leotard & tights. I remembered 32 changements as a breezy warmup…now they were a real effort. And after just an hour & a half class, I was tired!
But in many other ways, it was as good as it ever was. I love the ritual of a ballet class – it’s like going to Mass: the same every time and everywhere. I love losing myself in class. For that 90 minutes, only focusing on myself, the steps and breathing life into the movement. I made the joke that it felt like going back to a bad boyfriend – one that had hurt you – it immediately felt comfortable and familiar…but it was hard to completely trust it. And really, what was the point? It wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
Then, something inside me started to change. It all started to come together for me. I was improving week to week – the muscle memory getting stronger with every class. I knew I was lucky to be in a studio that truly welcomes and values all of their dancers, including adult students. I’m not just “allowed” to take class – I’m noticed, corrected and pushed. And I was even more fortunate to have found a teacher I connected with – her style of teaching and dance philosophy resonated with me and reawakened a love of ballet, simply for the sake of it. I began to realize that ballet was never going to be what it was for me. And that’s ok. It was ok for it to become something else.
I’m no longer training to become a professional dancer of any kind. But that doesn’t make my time in the studio any less valid or meaningful. I’m training my body and mind, connecting with my inner artist. I’m branching out of my comfort zone and exploring new and unfamiliar styles of dance. I love that time in the studio. Ballet has become a practice for me – not a means to an end. It’s part of who I am. And it’s now affording me new opportunities like these – to share my stories, my love of dance and hopefully encourage others to find and explore dance in their lives through this blog. I feel so fortunate and am so excited to see what happens next. I hope you’ll dance with me through this next chapter.
Your turn. Have you gone back to dance after taking a hiatus? Thinking about it now? Tell me about it in the Comments section.