If so, please describe it to me because it has been a while.
At least that is how I was feeling today. Not the part about feeling good, but the part about not knowing what "good" feels like.
Today I took a ballet class for the first time in almost three weeks. I know...to many that would not be a bad number. To me this is terrifying. I can't remember the last time I went that long without a ballet class.
"What's the deal, Deanna," you might ask. "Have you been smokin' and jokin'?" as my childhood ballet teacher used to say to keep us striving for self-discipline instead of hiding in the dressing room eating Fruit Roll-Ups during class. (Needless to say, I was never in the dressing room eating Fruit Roll-Ups. I was standing at my (key word: my) barre spot, second from the front at the wall stage left, wishing I was in the dressing room eating Fruit Roll-Ups. Or at least eating Fruit Roll-Ups while ronde jambing.) And while I still wish I were eating those strawberry-flavored delectables, the deal is that I have been in rehearsals.
"Well, why can't you take class and rehearse?" you might ask. (Yes, by now we all acknowledge that you are not asking me any of these questions, but rather my neurotic self is asking my other neurotic self these things.)
"Because my body is dead," says one of my neurotic yet tired selves. "My muscles feel like bricks and my body feels like it's on strike. My calves are telling me to go home, go to bed, and sleep until next spring, and my feet are answering that they are all up for this plan but could someone else please do the walking to get there?"
The truth is that I've been giving myself barre every morning as a pre-rehearsal warm-up in an attempt to stand in as a pseudo class, although we all know that self-designated barres never do much good, as they are only an opportunity to indulge in the very movements that we need not improve. Nevertheless, I have made it my pre-rehearsal routine. In addition, I've stored my pointe shoes and my salmon-colored leotard in my rehearsal bag for that momentous day when, after a full day of choreography, I will feel invigorated enough to chassé over to a nearby class and pirouette myself back into prima shape. But instead, the shape I'm finding myself in at the end of rehearsals is one of an amoeba-like puddle of sweat and swollen joints with the desire to just get outta Dodge, aka midtown.
Until today. So...off to Steps I went, pointe shoes now buried under the week's lunch receipts and Clif Bar wrappers, and bobby pins hopefully still in tow somewhere amongst the chaos. Forging up the three flights of stairs that seemed like six to the registration desk, and putting one puffy yet determined foot in front of the other, I eventually marched my way into the preserved and semi-dreaded salmon leotard and to my favorite and luckily available window barre spot where I can people watch onto 74th Street when that "I'm really bored with barre can I break free now and use full port de bras" attitude kicks in.
Class commences and all is right in the world. Finally. It's just me, a big windowed studio, Marley, comfy socks, Chopin, my view of the laundromat sign across the street, and turnout. Ok, plus a few other twenty or thirty dancers. The music begins, I give a sigh of relief that then lifts me into my port de bras, inhaling the introduction of one of my favorite ballet tunes (who told the pianist I was making my comeback today?!) and immediately recognizing that feeling of calm that blankets the room during a ballet class's first barre exercise. Fingers separate and I feel the humid hum of the air as the soul awakens.
And just as I turn my head to the right to glance into the mirror as I do my first plié, the world suddenly spins off its axis, sending my second-long sense of ease into its previous state of terror as I see that an awkward figure is staring back at me, attempting to be just as graceful as I. Knees at an incomplete angle lacking the 180 degree spread, plié only a millimeter away from being straight-legged, and-dare I say- soggy muscles that lack my tone and instead gain what I would guess to be two and a half weeks of cookies, this strawberry blonde is now gazing at me with such confusion that it takes all the control that should be in my lower abdomen to stabilize my spine to not yell out at her, "excuse me! You are standing right in front of me and I can't see my reflection!"
We continue to stare at each other as we attempt to compose ourselves enough to straighten up from what turned into a terrible excuse for a demi plié on both our parts. I glance away as I ease myself back into the magical world of ballet and again focus on what was previously my homecoming performance. But as I get lost in another exquisite breath of the arm, I again notice soggy Ginger, stubbornly planted directly in front of me, peaking at me out of the corner of her eye to see if I am watching.
"Is she taunting me," I wonder, as I begin to indulge in a grand plié and can't help but notice her grand is no better than her demi. "Poor girl. I suppose not everyone can have perfectly open h-"
And just then, in mid thought, was when I realized that that soft, unfortunate figure, the girl so confused and clearly in the wrong class yet perhaps determined to fit some sort of exercise into her schedule was...me!
In my mind's eye, I jumped right up from the bottom of my grand plié, rubbed my eyes with my fists, squinted in disbelief, stomped over to the mirror, gasped at the horror of the truth, threw my head back while grabbing my forehead, sending my body flat on its back in a dramatic X on the precious Marley, and heaved a bloodcurdling "NOOOOO!!!!!!" before I curled into a ball of whimpers.
In real life, I hesitantly shimmied up from my plié, back stiffened slightly more than my upper lip and knees shaking from the adrenaline of a surprise reunion with myself, gritted my teeth, and swallowed my pride as I let out a fake giggle at my pitiful plunder. "Well," we tragically said to each other as we mimicked having poise, "it looks like we have some work to do."
It's amazing what a mirror can do. Or rather, it's amazing how a mirror can make one feel. The mirror is a powerful thing, even for someone who chooses to not wear corrective lenses so that she cannot see her true reflection. For the rest of class, I was the typical distraught, self-loathing student, analyzing every flawed movement, criticizing my lack of muscular coordination, frustrated by my attempt to stay upright, panicked by my inability to achieve a straight leg, annoyed with my leg's obtuse decision to try to stay below hip-level, embarrassed by my weak ankles that begrudgingly (and barely) lifted themselves over my pointe shoes, and dreading the countless imperfections that continued to proliferate as each measure was played.
Class finally ended, and I picked up my bag along with my rubbery muscles, aggravated tendons, and shredded ego that had been, much like the beads of nervous sweat on my forehead, scattered amidst studio two. I muttered an apology to the teacher, kicking the rest of my scattered body parts out the door, and began listing in my already distraught head the many notes I gave myself during class, my most neurotic self making sure my lesser neurotic self does not show up to studio two again without full punishment and repentance.
As I continued the list of criticism, I was interrupted by a woman who took class with me. "It's always so nice to take class with you," she said. "You are always so calm."
"Calm????!!!!" I said in my head. "Did you not see what happened in there????? Did you not see the sad excuse of a ballet dancer that showed up in my socks and then paraded around in my pointe shoes????!!!! Did you not see that horrible imposter flop around as if she could even pretend to know the beginning stages of grace while really just looking like a seven-year-old mimicking the Fantasia dancing hippos?????!!!! Calm???!!!!!! How could anyone be calm seeing this fool be the epitome of the word disgrace?????!!!!!"
"Oh, thank you," instead my voice chose to calmly say, as my head lowered in what appeared to be a humbled bow but was really my body's ultimate surrender of sheer humility. And with this bow of the head came the only physical coordination of the day as I grapevined toward the dressing room, nearly shuffling off to Buffalo (but in all actuality tripping) into my pedestrian clothes-the only clothes I should have been wearing that day. Running shoes on, I became the world's fastest speed walker, veering through the eagerly stretching and very serious Thera-Band users. My exit music seemed to only increase in speed until I came to a complete halt as I found myself face to face with familiar eyes. Amidst the screen of substitute teacher listings and promotional paraphernalia was a picture of a woman whose face I could not immediately place but could only conjure up the image of myself in my red leotard.
"Red leotard, red leotard," I muttered to myself. "Ah!!!! First class back!!!" Suddenly I remembered not just who this was, but all that went with my encounter with her. A flashback-an instant collage of emotions and circumstances-wrapped up in a red leotarded bow of a memory years ago came and splashed its then horrific but now invigorating self on my face.
The woman was Ginger Thatcher. The place was Ballet Academy East. The event was momentous. I had been on my second haitus in my lifetime of no ballet classes. My second time "quitting." But this time (just as the first time) felt real. And the stakes were higher because I was now older. I had danced with Kansas City Ballet for over seven years and ended my ballet career abruptly, shoving my steady and secure lifestyle messily into boxes and various storage locations and deciding to change my life and search for a new me. A year later, I found myself at the ballet barre at Academy East trying to reconnect with the old me. The me that now found itself back in a braided ballet bun.
Red leotard, pointe shoes, and primary colored-striped headscarf on, I stood gaping at myself the entire class, wondering who in the world this girl across from me in the mirror was. The surprising thing was that her figure looked-dare I say-better than I had ever looked. She was better proportioned and almost quite beautiful, her derriére smaller and hamstrings more defined from the new routine of ballet barre, stationary bike and lots of running. The unsurprising thing was that she was dancing like a toddler learning to walk, unsure of her every step and praying she would not fall down. Each combination was like a reunion between two people that looked familiar yet could not place specifics.
After class I apologized to the teacher and used every ounce of acting technique to keep from crying. Until I got into the elevator, that is. Out came a river of years of tears. Tears of sadness, searching, regret, reform, devastation, freedom and pure confusion.
And now I stood, gazing at Ginger Thatcher's face, having just taken another wretched class of embarrassment and self-hatred, only this time a salmon-colored leotard rolled into a sweaty ball sat in my bag instead of a red one. Adjusting the straps of my canvas bag, I took a big breath, lifted my chin and couldn't help but chuckle to myself.
I walked to the train, thinking about that red leotarded girl. What spunk! That girl just marched right into class, slapped on her pointe shoes, and just...showed up. Sure, there were tears afterward. But little did she know that the years that followed would be some of her best dancing years yet. Little did she know that she would eventually get back her ballet self, that her á la seconde would find its way back up, that her en dedans were still her best turns, and that turnout and pointe shoes would somehow feel like first nature, not second.
The mirror is a powerful thing. But so is determination. And forgiveness. And discipline. And forgiveness. And timing. And passion. And dreams. And balance. And drive. And love. And forgiveness.
Fast forward almost two weeks. I am still in rehearsals, but I am making strides. Since the salmon leo day, I have sweated through eight other colors, spent $108 on class (two were free, thank goodness....that issue is another one to write about), spent four hours on the foam roller, spotted two muscles of yesteryear that are beginning to peak from under the cookies, whimpered to my boyfriend twice that "I can't dance," eaten 26 cookies (hey, somethings never change), have given myself two nods of approval during class time, disagreed with three pieces of praise from others after class, limited my disgusted grimaces at my own image to only 90 percent of class time, allowed myself 100 mistakes per combination, and looked forward to every time I place my hand on that barre.
Today I have a white leotard in my bag. After all, as I like to say, "It looks like we have some work to do."