Hello again, dearest readers! I had a relaxing week, and I don’t know if it’s because my mood is temporarily lighter, but I’m finally starting to feel better in my skin, and I’m more at peace with living in Montreal. Score for this NB homebody!
This week, I want to write about ballet.
Ballet. The first love of my life.
First, one must understand that ballet is… well, it’s a lot of things. It’s an art form that originated in the 15th century Italian courts, and it has evolved over the years into a revered, athletic, graceful, and breathtaking sport. Yes, I would call it a sport, but an art at the same time because it’s just so beautiful. (I’ve argued with a lot of people who denied it being a sport. Their classic counter-argument was “it’s not in the Olympics.” Pff, whatever, ballet is just so above that, that it doesn’t need to be in the Olympics. It’s its own kind of Olympics, I think, with all its performances, companies, competitions, but anyway, moving on!) Ballet can be split into two categories: professional and recreational. Professional are those who dance for a living. Recreational is, for example, us at Dance Fredericton. Recreational schools are crucial: not only can you have girls start out there and make their way to professional schools, but they are places where young girls and boys develop discipline, an appreciation for ballet and music, make friends, and grow as a person (a pretty employable one too, I might add). Kind of like after-school soccer, or any other team sport.
For some time, a few years ago, I strongly disliked ballet. *Dance friends reading this, don’t take offence, this is just what I felt, and I’ll explain what I mean. It will end positively for ballet, I promise. Also take in consideration I’ve been studying ballet for most of my life, about 18 years, and I was silently battling anorexia for 8 of those years. So some of my thoughts were unhealthy and irrational, and they’re not what I think now.
I’ve always wanted to be a professional ballerina (who didn’t?!), and going to see performances by the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada about once a month at the Fredericton Playhouse when I was young and meeting the dancers afterward, made me think I want to be like them! (At DF, we’ve actually been honoured for many years to have former ABTC dancers teach us for workshops, and sometimes our regular classes during the week, which was a highlight for me over the years. They included: Janie Richard, Leigh Alderson, Kyle Davey, Samantha-Jane Gray, Sergiy Diyanov, Yuriko Diyanova, Louis-Philippe Dionne, and the one and only Anton Lykhanov.) But, when you’re a little 10 or 12 year old, and you’re just not quite what professional schools want (for example, I remember being told at an audition that my arms were too long – really?), you can feel let down, or just feel like you want to give up if you’re the sensitive kind like me. Some people can see this as an obstacle and try harder next time, but after a few years of auditioning, I didn’t want to try anymore. I was happy with staying at DF, eventually teaching, and doing it for fun. I could have gone on an alternate route, like study dance in university or audition to be in a contemporary dance company (which are generally more accepting of other bodies and talents than just height, thinness, flexibility, and impeccable technique, which are usually what professional ballet companies want), but I really wanted to go to UNB and study literature.
It was hard, to live those four years, half-thinking I could still make it after my literature degree, as a dancer somewhere. Because I loved going to dance for my classes, forget that I was in university, and think that I was 16 year old again who could start planning for her dance career. But when I was back at school, I was immersed in my books and essays, and I loved that too, and when I was up in the library, studying away, I didn’t want to go to dance.
It’s hard to have more than one passion, but I’m happy that writing is my passion. I love being here in Montreal, recovering nicely, looking back on my years in the studio, and I know now that with writing, I can always create stories about dancers and ballerinas, and live viscerally through my characters. Also, if I ever want to dance again, I’ll just do it myself in the comfort of my apartment! Personally, for the moment, it’s a “safer” alternative because I’m afraid what my mind in recovery will tell me if I step into an adult ballet class here in Montreal.
In the end, I’m still so happy I studied ballet because of all the positive things that came out of it. In grade school, I was so proud that I could do all my schoolwork and practice 8-14 hours of dance a week. I was the only “serious” ballet dancer in my grade, and I liked standing out from everyone else. I liked being busy, and I was never jealous of the kids who just went home after school, did their homework (maybe), watched TV, or did nothing. (Actually, when I stopped dancing “full time” after school, I enjoyed the free time for a bit, then I started missing a set schedule. That’s what I’m currently working on in Montreal, so that I don’t just relish in down time after work everyday. But it was necessary when I first moved and got adjusted, and it’s still necessary once or twice a week to recharge myself, but I think I’m ready to get busy again.)
I loved how impressed people were that I could dance in pointe shoes. I was impressed and happy with myself that I was strong enough to go on pointe, and dance as gracefully as I do – because pointe is hard, and not all young dancers have the ankle strength right away. I loved watching my body get stronger and my mind get sharper as I grew up. One day I was doing simple steps and short exercises, then I was able to get my head around longer sequences, then reverse them.
I loved being able to teach ballet, especially to young children. I was blessed with a teaching position at DF from grade 10 to my fourth year of university, and although I stressed over my class syllabus (Am I teaching them enough? Am I giving them too much? Why are they so loud and not listening? What if they drop out after this class? Oh, please don’t cry little lady because you miss your mommy, you’re making everyone else sad now!), I adored it. I loved seeing the joy in their eyes, the excitement in their squeals when we moved our bodies, galloped across the room on our imaginary horses, leaped over hula-hoops, and I was so proud to see them perform and remember their steps onstage. I loved all the cards and drawings they made me. And I loved being spotted outside of DF, with an excited “look, it’s Miss Nikki!!” and a hug.
From teaching, I loved being able to assist in the studio’s summer camps. After doing that for a few summers, I eventually became one of the Head Fairies at the Fairytale Dance Camp, and that was like my Saturday morning classes during the year, but with more crafts, freeze dance, and sweet treats!
On a material note, because I’m a Taurus, I loved all my ballet clothes and necessities: my crisp new tights (and the old, stinky ones with holes and rips), leg warmers, pretty bodysuits, Lululemon warm up sweatpants and tops, sweaters, shorts, hairnets and bobby pins, pointe shoes, ribbons, worn out soft shoes, sewing kit, dance bags, hair gel, performance makeup, muscle rollers, rubber bands, tennis balls (for rolling out my arches, duh!), and of course, the costumes.
I love the friendships that were formed. When you’re with the same group of girls two to five times a week, dancing, sweating, complaining, laughing, and learning exercises or choreography (or desperately trying to remember them), you make friends. Not necessarily with everyone, but at least with one or two special people. In my case, I think I got along well with everyone, but I didn’t really become really close friends with those my age. When I got older, and became, as I jokingly called myself, the “old lady” of Nutcracker (because a 22 year old still dancing at a recreational school with a group of middle and high schoolers is like the senior citizen – which is totally cool), I think I had a friendly relationship with all the performers.
Of course, I was the closest to my sister Sophie (still am!). As a homebody and the biggest admirer of my talented and beautiful sister, I couldn’t have been happier to be in the same ballet classes as her, and to perform in 5 Nutcracker dances together, for both shows, in 2015. Another strong friendship I made was with a special group of girls who are about 9 to 11 years younger than me. I started by babysitting two sisters about 4 years ago, and in the studio, we became best of friends. Then, their good friends, another set of two sisters their same age, joined our little group, and we became best friends. You know who you are, sweet things! ;)
The best part about ballet, after all the long hours we put in the studio to practice and rehearse, was performing. Even just being on the Fredericton Playhouse stage gave me thrills. Warming up onstage built more excitement, as did getting made up and dressed backstage. Then, even though I felt like passing out every time I stepped onstage to dance, I loved every second of it. It was our time to finally show the audience what we’ve been working on for months. We looked so beautiful, and the audience wasn’t afraid to tell us that and show their admiration after the show. I loved it all! (Especially the leftover hairspray, am I right girls?!)
In the last few years of doing ballet at Dance Fredericton, when I wasn’t imbued in my disordered thinking or busy comparing my body or work to others, I felt so free in the studio. Like my lovely instructors would say, the ballet class was simply a place to let go of all the stressed and worries of the day, and to just move the body. No matter how heavy and worn out I felt, a ballet class might make my body more tired, but I felt lighter in spirit. I mean, dancing in a space like DF was such a blessing. Its high ceilings, windows, clean mirrors, and expanse of floor, would make anyone feel lighter. As the legendary David Moroni said in one of our classes (yes, we were graced with his presence too!):
“A ballet class will never be dull or boring. Anything you do with your body will be nicer than what you do sitting down looking at your computer.”
Unless, of course, it’s writing, like what I do! I’m teasing, I know he was talking about browsing the internet or wasting time, but he is right. Just moving one’s body to music, in an ordered and graceful way, like in ballet, that will never be dull or boring.
I guess I’m just trying to convince myself, in recovery, that I can still enjoy ballet. Sometimes I think that I can’t because it reminds me of “being thin and sick” (let me make myself clear again, this was just my experience, and I’m not making any generalizations), but that’s just irrational thinking because, as I’ve shown here, ballet brought me way more good things than bad ones.
I simply can’t not like it! I mean, whether I practice it or not, ballet is truly beautiful, and I admire everyone who does it. I love watching ballets, I love looking at ballerinas’ Instagrams, and I enjoy writing about it. (Since one of my upcoming novels has ballet as one of its central themes. More on that later…)
So, to finish off, I wanted to share the lyrics of a great song you might recognize from a Christmas movie, which perfectly summarize how I feel about ballet as a more grown up veteran ballerina:
“I may not always love you
But as long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you
If you should ever leave me
Though life will still go on, believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only know what I’d be without you.“
Because, God only knows what I’d be without ballet. Thanks, Beach Boys! ;)
Stay tuned for next week’s post, where we move from the studio, to the stage, and I’ll talk about Nutcracker and other performance stories!
Lots of love,