Arabesque. Plié. Fouetté. The names of ballet movements alone sound elegant and enchanting. After seeing The Nutcracker at Christmas time, I became enthralled at the gracefulness and fluidity of the dancers. I watched YouTube videos with tiny dancers who ebbed and flowed to the music, or sometimes silence. They embodied everything that was beautiful and feminine in the world.
That was it. I had to do it. I had to become a ballerina.
This great thought sprung on me when I was 22 years old and had never taken a dance class in my life. I live with the bravado that it is never too late to learn something new, and this was my chance.
I began hunting for adult beginner ballet classes, and lo and behold I found one that wasn’t too far from my home or work. The class began in the evening, so it didn’t interfere with my day-to-day activities either… except maybe watching The Walking Dead, but that show is BAE and I have my ways.
When the day finally came to take my first lesson, I was giddy with excitement. I was nervous having never had any training whatsoever. I was excited because I was going to be a BALLERINA! And I was worried. Those tights they wear are TIGHT and sometimes ride up in all the wrong places. Plus there is a lot of bending in ballet and I certainly didn’t want any wardrobe malfunctions. I opted to change my tank to a turquoise, tunic-length cami that covered my rear just in case.
First position, second position, third position. Extend. Flex. Point. Plié. These are all things I learned on the first day. There were 6 girls in the class, including myself, and we lined up at the bar and listened to the instructor call out movements. The lady teaching us learned my name quickly as I had to be corrected so many times for things I still don’t understand I was doing wrong.
The next morning after the class had ended, my legs were so sore! I felt like I had been doing nothing by squats for 45 minutes straight! Little by little, with practice at home, my lower limbs gained their strength.
A few classes went by and we were practicing our choreographed routine. I was placed in the back, but did have a few moments of spotlight when formations changed, which made me happy.
At around the 5th or 6th lesson though, something changed. The giddiness I felt before had faded and there was a tension in the room among myself and the other five ballerinas. Sideways glances and sneers caused me to feel uneasy and like I was competing with the other girls rather than learning and dancing with them.
This negative vibe was especially heightened when we were at the bar in the beginning of the class. I would plié my heart out, even doing pliés on commercial breaks at home, but they weren’t as good as the girls next to me. The instructor made sure to draw this comparison. I would elongate my neck to appear more delicate, but it had been said that Caroline had a neck and physique that was made to be a ballerina. I had my hair in a ponytail after a long day of work, but the ballerina on the end had the perfect feminine bun.
You may be thinking that I was starting to get jealous of these girls, but that wasn’t the case. What had changed was the fact that my instructor slowly began using comparisons (in a negative way) that created a competitive environment instead of a nurturing one.
I understand that any sport requires a competitive nature, but this class gave me something I hadn’t had before. Doubt and uncertainty. I wondered if I would ever be able to do pliés as graceful as the girl next to me. I pondered how I could make my neck slimmer and longer. ( Did I look like the Hulk or something?! What was I? A fat, short-necked masculine looking girl?)
No. I wasn’t going to let this class lower my self-esteem. I QUIT.
Too often in society women are pitted against each other through jealousy, through gossip, and through comparisons. There is healthy competition, and then there is a kind that changes you. It breeds angst towards other females. It masks feelings of insecurity. It causes an uncomfortable self-conscious and ultimately lowers self-esteem.
It is no secret that women tend to rely on validation from others to feel more confident in themselves. However, we are powerful, autonomous beings that can separate ourselves from situations and people that don’t always agree with us and our beliefs and be just fine.
We can combine compassion with competition to embrace one another’s flaws and empower and uplift one another instead of bringing each other down.
We can have strength. We can be supportive. We can succeed.
I quit because I don’t feel threatened or worried that someone else’s happiness will ruin mine.
I quit to preserve my own self-worth.
I quit because I am a ballerina and I don’t need you to tell me I am.