I once had a ballet teacher who would sit us down in front of videos of our performances and make us watch them in slow motion.
“Look! Right there!” she’d snap as our slightly blurry figures inched frame by frame out of a pirouette. “Your foot sickled right there. That’s unacceptable.”
Yes, I admit it. My foot sickled (or curved inward) for half a second on the way down from a passé. Oh, the horror!
Seriously, though, those viewings burned their way into my brain. They (and other experiences like them) left me with an enduring doubt in my own abilities and a nagging feeling after any performance (or essay or interview) that I actually didn’t do as well as I thought I did or as others said I did.
There was always the neverending and insanely minute scrutiny of the results, a terror of repeating a perceived mistake, and the feeling that I was inferior to other people who would, no doubt, perform flawlessly without effort. I’m only now discovering that there’s a difference between “OK, good, now, what can we improve?” and “You may have thought you did well, but that was actually garbage. Do better next time or you will be a failure.”
A FAILURE. In big red letters and flashing lights and with a distinct of aura of “and then no one will love you. Ever.”
I haven’t written a lot about my experiences in ballet class. I’ve told stories to my friends, but somehow, writing them and sharing them with the world is…scarier. I start worrying that maybe I’m not telling the objective truth, and that maybe I’ll get “in trouble” (as if any deeply personal experience can ever be recounted objectively).
But my desire to share my stories is outgrowing my fear. These experiences made me who I am today. They gave me the drive to help other people break free from the shackles of similar experiences, even as I’m casting off my own. They bonded me to my classmates in ways that no time or distance can weaken. In a bizarre way, they gave me strength. I can’t imagine who I would be without those experiences, even though the recollection of many of them still makes me inexpressibly sad. And how can you understand me and my message without really knowing where I came from?
So, tentatively, ever so shyly, I’d like to start talking about them. Not as a victim angrily recounting her hurts, and not in the way my teacher did, replaying past performances in slow motion for maximum scrutiny and self-shaming, but as a woman coming into her own and revisiting the past in the knowledge that it made her into a pretty kickass person in the long run. There are lessons in the past. There’s gold to be mined. There are stories, good and bad, to be shared. Because now, fifteen years later, I am safe and well and the bad things can’t hurt me any more.
…And you know what? My pirouettes looked just fine in regular-speed. As long as I was turning to the right, anyway. So there.