Opening the door to the past…

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!

I don’t have a picture of myself doing a pirouette. Or of sickling my foot. But hey, this is an audition photo where my front foot is doing the opposite of sickling. And for the record, the opposite of “sickle” is “wing.” It’s teacher-approved because it’s prettier.

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.”

If I had a time machine, this little girl would be getting a giant hug. You know, unless doing that would rip a hole in the fabric of space and time.

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.

You can’t take this away from me.

…And you know what? My pirouettes looked just fine in regular-speed. As long as I was turning to the right, anyway. So there.

16 thoughts on “Opening the door to the past…”

  1. Oh Meg, this made me all weepy. I’d like to give that little girl a hug, too.

    I’ve never enjoyed watching ballet. They always look like they are in pain – mental and physical. It hurts me to watch them. Some of the more modern forms of dance look so much more joyful to me. I am curious to hear about it from the other side of things… and glad that you’ll be bringing some of that into the light. I think you’ll find it will help you on your journey.

    1. Thanks, Hannah! Trust me, she NEEDED a hug.

      I totally understand what you mean about ballet. I still appreciate its beauty (although I couldn’t for YEARS), but now I appreciate it as a form completely alien to my body. I remember the absolute bliss I felt when I took modern dance for the first time; even though we were all doing the same steps, we were encouraged to just let go and allow our bodies to find their own way into the movement. It was a revelation.

      (I’d like to share some of that too…all of it, good and bad, through the lens of me as I am now. That’s my plan 🙂 )

  2. I’m glad you can now look back on the Ballet Years with such a positive perspective. You are a very strong person, Meg, despite what you may think at times. Truly. I’m so happy that you’re finally realizing it!

  3. “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.”

    Brilliant. I love your reflection on this – an acknowledgement that though those experiences are a part of you AND you can be joyful (like that photo at the bottom – so awesome!)

  4. Well according to Timecop you’d both explode, but I wouldn’t look to a crappy Van Damme movie for laws of temporal physics if I were you, so hug away!

    As a pathological secret keeper myself, I applaud you for making the decision to tell your whole story. Complete openness is an ideal that I strive for, but rarely attain.

  5. Nice! I applaud your new approach to throwing open the curtains and sharing your truth, and I love dance class stories. My teachers were actually pretty supportive but I was mean enough to myself for all of us. 🙂

  6. I hadn’t realized this was a personal blog when I clicked on it. At first it just seemed interesting on my news feed wall, and so I decided to read more. What I found was a very candid disclosure, you must be a brave soul. Anyway, I just wanted to compliment you on your writing style, its very good, has flow, and made me sorry to have it end when it did, it was compelling. Keep writing, you’re excellent at it. – Cheers!

  7. I was fortunate in that my dance classes/teachers were never that strict and self-flagellating, but I did impose a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect (cue eating disorder phase of adolescence). You were clearly a more advanced ballerina than I, so I’m sure the mental stress was off the charts.

    You know, just this morning I read a news story my husband wrote about a sports camp with a holistic focus–so not only do they teach athletics, they emphasize the mental aspect of being competitive as well.
    They totally need this program for dancers too!

  8. Yeah…my Grade 11 report card is basically teacher after teacher going “Meg is doing extremely well considering the mental and physical strain she’s under with her ballet training” 😛

    That camp sounds AMAZING! And yes, definitely needed for dancers-in-training.

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