I used to be a bunhead. Bunhead, n : a technical term meaning “a girl obsessed with ballet”…and, for the record, I’m not being sexist and excluding male dancers with this definition…it’s just that I have yet to see a boy with a bun. Just saying.
And here’s some more:
See? Total bunhead. Me.
But here’s the thing: Being a bunhead didn’t really make me happy. It really wasn’t a good fit for me. And I’ll tell you why.
This body of mine? Five foot nine. When I went to a ballet summer school, I was the tallest girl in my class by several inches. There was one studio in the basement where I actually couldn’t lift my arms above my head while I jumped because I would smack my hand on the ceiling. …yeah.
Also? This body of mine? Not supposed to be thin. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, it’s just NOT. Want to see what I looked like when I was an “acceptable” ballet weight? Here:
Yeah…that just doesn’t look good on me. And it wasn’t healthy. I was sick ALL. THE. TIME. I never got my period. I was underweight and overtrained.
(See? This is me about 40lbs heavier. And yes, I thought I was obese when this photo was taken. *snort*)
Regardless of whether it loved me, I did love ballet. In ballet class there would be fleeting moments when I would transcend the steps and radiate my own dancing light (I once made my mom cry during a port de bras exercise…port de bras is basically dancing with your arms. It was my favourite part of class for a reason). Those were the moments that kept me coming back again and again.
The problem was that I equated “dance” with “ballet.” I’m not saying that ballet isn’t dancing, because of course it is. But dancing is not ballet. It’s so much more.
And when I started doing modern dance, it was the same thing. There were moments of absolute and utter magic (many more of them, in fact). But there were the same beliefs holding me back, the same quest for unattainable perfection, the same fight with my body, and there was the same hatred of the girl in the mirror.
When I was a bunhead (and when I was a modern dancer too), I thought that dance wasn’t something you could just do. Only an elite few could do it. You had to train for it. You had to work for it. You had to sweat and bleed and cry and ache for it. And if you took even one day off, you risked losing it. All of this is true about ballet. It’s also true about professional modern dance and probably any professional dance technique. But it isn’t true about dance as a whole.
So then I stopped dancing…or rather, I stopped taking dance classes. And I didn’t realize that giving up technique classes didn’t mean I was giving up dance. I can’t even begin to tell you the anguish I felt when I was convinced that I had cut myself off forever from the thing that makes my soul soar highest. I stopped because I couldn’t take the pain of self-loathing I felt in dance class (and the physical pain as well)…but I loathed myself even more when I wasn’t doing it. I berated myself for giving up, for getting too old (at 24), too fat (at a perfectly healthy size for me), too scared and “lazy” and “pathetic” (in my own words at the time). I tried going back again and again, but it only made me feel worse.
(In my mind, these kinds of dancing, the kinds that lit me up inside, didn’t count. Especially the first one)
Dancing is so much more than most people think it is. It’s more than steps and technique and dress codes. It’s more than lessons. At its core, dancing is something you do naturally. Babies do it. Toddlers do it. And then suddenly it becomes something you need to take lessons for, that you can do right or wrong, that you have to sweat and bleed for, that only a chosen few can do well. We forget what it’s like to just…dance…and to have that be perfect no matter how it looks.
I forgot. I did. I think we all do.
But it’s time to remember.
Your own dance is no less valid than a perfectly-executed ballet variation. You don’t have to have taken a dance class ever in your life in order to be a dancer. It doesn’t matter what you wear or whether you can fit into a leotard (or even want to). You, my friend, are a dancer. No matter what.
Dancer. You. Bun or no bun.
Don’t forget that.