My Weakness and My Strength

“How can an industry that promotes such beautiful art also make us feel so badly about ourselves sometimes?”

Dance is my weakness and my strength.

Sometimes I wish I had fallen in love with a different occupation – something that truly pays the bills and/or something that doesn’t require giving so much of yourself (/ALL of yourself). Unfortunately, there were many moments in my life when dance made me feel bad about myself. I spent a lot of my company career trying to satisfy someone else, to fit in, to not disappoint, to match, and to blend in. I thought all I had to do was “hunker down”, neglect my own needs, and put in my time. But even then I did not always receive the reciprocated respect I was hoping for.

I write today in response to Kathryn Morgan’s brave and necessary reflection on her experience with Miami City Ballet. It was instantly clear that the content of her video resonated with many of us from the ballet world. Ms. Morgan boldly spoke about the toxic body shaming the dance world still perpetuates. Some companies unfortunately still promote the concept that you must be a certain size or fit a certain mold to be valued. Her words and her honesty made me want to get involved in the conversation.

I admit that I did not realize how deeply embedded ballet was in my brain until I started seeing a therapist for my mental health (Happy belated #worldmentalhealthday). All these years I naively thought that I had done a good job of compartmentalizing, keeping ballet in the studio and living the rest of my life according to me. But that was not the case. The situations that always bothered me the most, that would eat at me longer than necessary, were interactions I had with others in which I felt that I was not meeting their expectations. The thing that would drive me to anxiety wasn’t, “Is this what I want? Is this what I need?” But rather, “What will they think of me now? I’m letting that person down. I feel so bad.” The chronic need to please, a toxic personality trait that stems from my experience with ballet, had seeped into my regular life. What I am now trying to relearn essentially is how to care for myself and meet my own needs first. This is something I am still working on today and something I will always have to work at.

“I want my students to know that ART DOESN’T FIT INSIDE A MOLD.”

I do not regret my relationship with ballet. There are many moments that hurt me and are still etched inside my brain, but those moments made me stronger and wiser. Ballet dancers are strong, confident, perseverant, daring, and efficient. But the attack and the bravery that you may see onstage does not always directly translate behind the scenes. You may be surprised to find that offstage and in the real world, many dancers exhibit completely alternate qualities when it comes to addressing personal and social situations.

As artists we must strive to eliminate stories like Ms. Morgan’s, stories in which beautiful, hardworking artists are belittled and shamed. Mental stress, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety are all real experiences that all humans are susceptible to, especially dancers. We must eliminate the stigma associated with mental health and stop expecting every shred of a dancer’s mind and body to be strong. I want my students to know that ART DOESN’T FIT INSIDE A MOLD. It’s about movement, artistry, individuality, and diligence. An audience wants to watch someone who is real, who breathes and feels and has flaws. And we don’t choose dance because it’s easy. We want to feel everything, the highs and the lows – the fear, the pain, the love, and the joy.

For Those Who Feel Lost

“Everyone is on a journey we know nothing about.”

If you are a planner like me, you may also be wondering why you are not further along on your journey than your naive teenage self thought you would be at this point. I assumed that by now I would be at the peak of my career, married with one or two children, and a homeowner. Some individuals have all this and more, and I genuinely applaud you. But we all have different expectations for ourselves, and we all make different decisions along the way.  Personally, I am not exactly checking off all the boxes I thought I would in my own vision. What’s to blame? College debt? The pandemic? Or is it that I am simply in a different place in my life than I thought I would be? 

The past year I have been in a long period of limbo. As my significant other is hard at work completing his PhD, I made the decision to stop teaching last fall in anticipation of our move. For a week or two at the end of last summer, I had NO IDEA what I was going to do for work. I was a mess of nerves. I finally pieced together a plan for myself, and,  thankfully, within a couple of weeks, my schedule went from utterly empty to full again. The only downside was that aside from some private lessons and subbing gigs, my path from August 2019 to late summer 2020 did not include any dancing or teaching whatsoever. If you know me at all, you know that that is my life. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it hurt my heart. I miss my students more than I can say.

There was a plus side though that kept me going (until COVID-19 hit): I was able to attend many more ballet classes than usual. From September to February, I attended an array of adult, company/trainee, and academic classes. It really was a glimmering silver lining to the whole situation. Although I felt out of touch with my career path, I had time to devote to myself and my dancing.

“I feel rather lost…in all honesty, I am having trouble finding the humor and the bright side anymore…I believe we still have a long way to go.”

My last post was full of optimism and hope…and coincidentally it was written in early February 2020, about one month before the world took a turn for the worst. Fast forward to September 2020, six months into COVID times, and I feel like the “we can do this”, honeymoon vibes of this whole situation have utterly evaporated. I feel rather lost. When this began, I was eagerly baking every day, Netflix and chillin’ with bae, spring cleaning, and laughing off the comedy of dancing in my carpeted living room. But in all honesty, I am having trouble finding the humor and the bright side anymore. Many things have improved – no more wiping down the groceries, and I have taken a few classes in studio with a mask on – but things are so different. I believe we still have a long way to go.

The past year I have struggled immensely with the constant need to meet other people’s expectations. This pandemic has forced many to try to compensate for the hard times. We feel like we need to have some moment of enlightenment or make big changes, since we have the time to do so at home. But what if we just admit to ourselves that this is hard, and we are struggling? Every day I find myself dwelling on the fact that I have strayed from my path…wondering when this will all sort out. I feel like I have to explain myself and give excuses, but you know what? I do not need to rise to the expectations of others. I try to remind myself (and I remind YOU) that I do not have to tell the whole story all the time if I do not want to. This is hard, and we don’t have to pretend that it’s not.

Everyone is on a journey we know nothing about. A journey that may be filled with positive turns…or perhaps one that has been filled with ups and downs and a current destination that they want to change. The important thing is remembering that you can change your story if you want to. It is not always easy, and you may have to ask for help. You may have to do something extremely difficult to get yourself to the other side. If you are still lost, that is OKAY. Your story is unique to you – Know that you are not alone and keep walking.

Watchful Eyes

“…there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante.”

What exactly is it about an audience that shakes our nerves to the core? Is it the desire to attain perfection? Or maybe the worry that we might fail? Or is it that very simple and innate human fear of judgement? We all have different reasons, both stated and deeply personal, but I can assure you that if observing eyes send you into a panic, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

As a ballet teacher, I am currently in the midst of “Parent Observation Week” – the three dreaded words for any teacher that equate to an annual or bi-annual event held during the academic year. This busy week presents an opportunity for students to share their class experience with family and friends, and showcase the development of their dance technique, as well as their favorite steps and combinations. For teachers, it is a time to become better acquainted with parents and to highlight a class’ progress, as well as the individual advancements of students.

However, despite the obvious positive points of parent observation, it can be an anxious time for students and teachers. For young students especially, it is an introduction into the pressures of performance and the anxiety that can come along with it. For more advanced, mature students, it is necessary time to prove oneself and gain practice for future auditions and opportunities. For teachers, too, it can be a nerve-racking experience, ensuring that a class’ abilities are adequately showcased. The best teaching strategies and tools must all be used, different learning types attended to, attention paid to corrections and discipline, and, of course, a little humor to keep it light and get some laughs, can’t hurt.

When it comes right down to it though, all parties involved just have to act natural. But there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante. It can affect a person in any career or stage of life. Our basic human instincts come into play-our desire to impress and succeed, and our fear of rejection and judgement.

It’s a wonderful thing to be motivated to give 110% percent and go above and beyond one’s normal expectations, but it’s also okay to experience nerves and anxiety in such a situation. Sometimes in tense, high pressure moments, we create and experience our best work. Under the watchful eyes of others, we may discover something about ourselves that we did not know before.

I've totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder...
I’ve totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder…

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An Allegro Anecdote: “I Can’t Turn Left.”

“It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me by any means, but, man, it makes for a good story.”

“I can’t turn left.” Many automatically think of the classic Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander when they hear this phrase. I, however, have actually said this when referring to myself.

In the winter of 2009, I was diagnosed in the West Hartford, Conn. ER with vertigo. Two days previous, the morning after Valentine’s Day, I rouse with a sensation of dizziness like nothing I had ever experienced. Each time I tried to focus my eyes, my gaze was repeatedly pulled downward. I was perpetually on the down slope of a roller coaster. I rested the entire day, tried unsuccessfully to nourish myself (everything came immediately back up), and of course called my Primary Care Physician for life-my Mom. I explained the circumstances, but my mother warily kept implying that I might’ve had “one too many” the night before. (True, we were in singles V-Day celebration mode-cosmopolitan style-the night before) But as my symptoms persisted, I knew it was not at all related.

I went to bed praying/assuming that this weird experience would have exhausted itself by the A.M.—WRONG…conditions remained the same the next day. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t go to dance classes, I couldn’t even watch TV in bed comfortably. The severity and persistence of my symptoms quickly got my Mom’s attention. She left work early and drove the hour and a half down to my college to accompany me to the ER. Finally, (after a long and fearful wait in the height of flu season) I was seen and diagnosed with a bout of vertigo. I wasn’t given much explanation, and was quickly sent home with an anti-nausea med prescription and motion sickness relief patches. I was told the symptoms would gradually fade on their own…

As a student whose college major involves movement about 90% of the time, I had to get back into the groove. But I struggled to get back into dance class. I could only do half of class, and the extreme motion I constantly felt required me to cling to the barre for dear life. The nausea med helped, but the motion sickness patches put me over the edge-the side effects hit me hard. The eye on the same side of my head as the patch (you only put one behind the ear on one side of the body) became severely dilated and my vision blurred. Now I was a vertigo inflicted college student, with blurred vision and one psycho dilated eye. Great.

So I went to see a specialist. I was given a series of tests, involving sound and the condition of my ears. The diagnosis-I had been coming down with a virus prior to the onset of vertigo. In response, the nerve controlling my balance within my left inner ear had swelled as a defense mechanism. Enough to the point that I had lost control of my balance and developed vertigo. As my inner ear readjusted, the vertigo would lessen, but it would take an undetermined amount of time. (Supposedly) I would never experience vertigo again.

“I survived two episodes of losing my greatest gifts-my balance and my control of movement.”

As a dancer, the vertigo proved to be quite a handicap for the 3-4 months it took to fizzle out. Because my left ear was the one primarily involved, I had a reoccurring struggle with any movement led by the left side of my body. Pirouettes to the left were a terrible thing for a long time. I struggled in modern class too. Already the ultimate “bunhead”, now in addition, anything too off-center or involving inversion was practically impossible. I was constantly uncoordinated, and was concerned about my progress. It was a stressful time. But it all turned out okay…for about five years…

In the spring of 2014, vertigo again came knocking at my door. This time, I took to the stage. As an apprentice with Ballet Theatre of Maryland, I had a performance that evening. Nothing like timing right? I didn’t have too much responsibility in the show that weekend, but I also didn’t have a solid understudy. I felt pretty uncomfortable attempting to dance under stage lighting and strobe lights, but I didn’t have a choice. I did a low key warm-up that night, enough to get by, and friends and co-workers were on high alert backstage, in case I needed to make an impromptu getaway off the stage (potentially to a trash can). I went out there and modified like whoa. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me by any means, but, man, it makes for a good story.

Dancers have thick skin (I mean, literally, too…those calluses!). I survived two episodes of losing my greatest gifts-my balance and my control of movement. In my current state, I now have the time and flexibility to truly take care of myself-mentally and physically. Would I have still had vertigo twice if I hadn’t been in the midst of two strenuous, performing arts programs? Probably! But I would have been able to better take care of myself afterwards, and therein lies the difference. It’s okay to push, but treating yourself like a human is okay too. As a dancer, these struggles seemed insurmountable. But they are also distinguishing challenges that have brought me to this point. There’s satisfaction in knowing I’ve survived it all.

Back To (Ballerina) School

“I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one.”

September looms before us as students, young and old, head back to school. The nights are a bit more crisp, school sales are underway, and Halloween decorations have somehow crept onto store shelves. Bear with me, because this all makes me rather nostalgic. A truth has hit me (and I accept it willingly, but need to talk it out of course): this is the first year of my life since I was five years old that I will not be “going back to school”, so to speak. Obviously, for 17 of those years, I was truly attending an academic institution of some kind. However, the past five years of my life I have started each late August with a “first day of school” as well. “Ballerina school” – five years of company life.

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Just another day at school – happy ballerina – April 2015

I know I’m not the only one that treats the first day back for the company season as the fantastic fresh start that it is. Just as a student preps with a backpack full of fresh notebooks, their coolest outfit, and the yummiest lunch, a dancer preps their shoes, their best leo, and the lunch and snack that will fuel their long day back. It’s clean slate time. Although not all mistakes may have been forgotten, the purity of summer allows even dancers a chance to unwind and be real people. The possibilities are endless now, there are new faces and old friends, spirits are high, and the road that is the next year of your life is laid out before you.

I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one. Freshness (I’m convinced I have a low grade case of OCD), new beginnings, organization, and plans, plans, plans. But this year is not like the rest. There will be no first day of school for me (for those of you who haven’t heard). It is not ideal, and, honestly, it makes me sad. But it’s what’s happening. A year ago today I took a fall (Balanchine loved dancers who fell, by the way). It was obviously a stumbling point, and it has caused me to stumble again and again, but I won’t let it be an end point.

“What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy?”

I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to be on-stage…another opportunity to pour out joy and emotion and leave it there for the taking…but I know that the skepticism I have about the road ahead is okay and it’s natural. Sometimes this is where the true magic lies–in the unexpected.

I admit I am questioning things. Because I like to know what I’m doing…I like a good plan. Not knowing what I’m meant to do next is killing me. What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy? (teaching dance makes me happy, but in an entirely different way-that’s a convo for another time…soon) What if there isn’t a replacement, a supplement for it? I’m afraid that I won’t be content with anything else…But I’m trying to figure it all out because that’s what I do. That’s me.

So to all my good friends who have started school – regular schooling or “ballerina school” – good luck. Put your best foot forward and plunge into the new.

To ballet company life – this isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.

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“the true magic lies-in the unexpected.” PC – Wendy Grande

Namaste Turned Out

“…quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul.”

Namaste and welcome, to this week’s J.O.D. Feeling fueled and positive after some afternoon yoga today, I started thinking about the vast benefits of yoga for dancers. As the summer winds down and we find ourselves preparing for new classes (academic and/or dance), new schedules, and the rigors of our Monday thru Friday lives (or Monday thru..always, as some of us may experience), yoga is an excellent way to prepare for a return to the ballet barre. While aspects of this practice can be quite foreign to classically trained dancers, there are many benefits to the practice, even if only attending on a weekly basis. As movers we are reminded of the need to breathe, thoughtfully stretch, work alternative muscles, and search within ourselves for both mental and physical needs.

the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace <3
the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace  ❤

The main benefit of yoga for dancers is the consistent emphasis on breath and breath support. Lack of breath support in accompaniment with movement is a common problem for dancers of all levels. Without breath support (and more specifically-correct breath support), dancers can become fatigued and lose stamina quickly. It is common, during class time especially, for dancers to exhale aggressively after completion of a combination-a sign that the breath is becoming pent up within the body while dancing. Yoga, on the other hand, promotes constant movement of the breath-both in moments of stillness and motion. Although it takes a great deal of practice, really focusing on the breath can make the process of utilizing it much more enjoyable. Not only does yoga help to promote breath support, but it also introduces different techniques of breathing (i.e. – use of the diaphragm for strength and stamina of breath).

Yoga is also a great alternative and/or addition to traditional ballet stretches. Whether you’re practicing in the Vinyasa technique (more rigorous; flowing and connecting from posture to posture) or Yin (long-held postures, focusing on stretching the fascia and reaching an appropriate “edge”), the poses of traditional yoga practice are excellent formats for allowing dancers to stretch both the lower body and the less commonly used (for ballet technique) muscles of the upper body. Poses like “plank”, “forward fold”, “warrior three”, “standing split”, “frog”, and “supine butterfly” are all excellent for strength and stretch and physically come easily to the “dancer crowd”. However, the prominent, sometimes glaring, difference between ballet and yoga that presents itself, is the lack of turnout. I still find myself wanting to outwardly rotate my hips and most definitely my feet, for certain poses within the yoga technique. However, sticking to the traditional parallel is definitely more successful. Although we desire to stick to what we know physically, the challenge of keeping the hips and feet parallel strengthens different muscles of the body, ones that aren’t commonly used on a day-to-day basis as a dancer.

Peace, peace, peace.
“Peace, peace, peace.”

Now some may say that they attend yoga for one reason – good ol’ savasana – a chance to literally lay back, corpse pose style, and let the worries of the day melt away. This deeply meditative moment within the practice is truly important for artists. It is an opportunity to quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul. Even if savasana is the only thing that gets you to yoga class, keep it up, because it’s certainly a good reason to be there.

Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend - always a delight
Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend – always just what I NEED. PC – My Mom  ❤

Yoga is a fantastic pairing or temporary alternative (for injury purposes) to dance. Before ruling out the practice as something too anti-ballet, give it a chance. There is nothing else like it. Although there is a strong meditative, spiritual, and individual component, yoga, like ballet, is also a disciplined practice. Take the opportunity and lie back…breathe, rotate those legs inward a little bit more than you’re used to, and focus on you.

Back To Basics

“…strength and energy, experience, and understanding. To an extent, a more mature dancer has all these tools, but I definitely took for granted the continuous maintenance…required for ballet.”

A dancer’s ballet technique can undergo constant evolution. The criteria that produce an excellent dancer are by no means black and white after all. Mastery of a step or concept does not guarantee your “ownership” of that progress for life. Although all art forms and physical activities require practice and diligence, ballet requires a special brand of patience and supervision.

I’ve spent the past week standing alongside my students. Taking class and working on the basics-things I’ve done millions of times before, but things that still benefit me.  Although age and experience grant us a sense of muscle memory for many movements and also choreography, there is still room for error and regression (not to be depressing).

I remember that as a young student I assumed, to some degree, that as an older, more mature dancer, the pathway was “only up” from there-easier coordination, a broad dance vocabulary, muscle memory, infinite strength and energy, experience, and understanding. To an extent, a more mature dancer has all these tools, but I definitely took for granted the continuous maintenance (in truth, A GREATER AMOUNT of maintenance) required for ballet. Whether I am taking class on a daily basis or returning after a short hiatus, I find myself not only making adjustments and correcting errors, but also discovering new areas for improvement. In layman’s terms, never a dull moment. I hate to play the strict teacher card (but actually, I love it), but if you’re bored in (any level) class or not feeling challenged, you must not be working very hard.

The constant battle for the “it was perfect” (Black Swan) moment is what keeps a lot of us going isn’t it? For all the perfectionist, OCD types out there (like myself), ballet is an art form that constantly offers a challenge – things to fix, new approaches to investigate, new characters and emotions to explore. A world of perpetual art, whether you’re refining your technique or simply going back to the basics.

Center Stage – Every Girl’s Dream (?)

“…the film brings honor to the art of ballet and the strife of dancers of all ages, [but], logistically, there are some snags in the fabric of the happy ending that Jody Sawyer selects.”

The past few days for me have been more than eventful. There are no words to describe the happiness and pride that radiates from attending and supporting the wedding day of a dear friend. This past Wednesday I packed my bags, wrapped my Bed, Bath, & Beyond goodies for the bride and groom, hung my cornflower blue bridesmaid dress in the backseat of my car and set the GPS for New York. From Wednesday evening through the late hours of Sunday, there was time to reconnect with close friends and to begin new friendships too. Amidst the bachelorette festivities, introductions to the groom’s family and friends, and some good ol’ manicures of course, three of us bridesmaids set aside time for a movie. Two of us dancers, one not, we obviously chose the 2000 classic, Center Stage

Whenever I curl up to enjoy this movie, I never cease to be amused by its antics and also occasionally confused by its values. While the film brings honor to the art of ballet and the strife of dancers of all ages, logistically there are some snags in the fabric of the happy ending that Jody Sawyer selects.  While I truly enjoy every late 90’s jam of the soundtrack, the classic beating of the pointe shoes scene, and the pure beauty of the authentic artistry of Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel, my, perhaps hundredth, glance at the values within makes me retrospectively fear for my young self as a viewing audience.

As I hovered around a laptop this past week with my two friends, we laughed in amusement/shock as we watched Amanda Schull’s character develop—a young girl with clearly no appropriate concept of relationships as she entangles herself within the life of her “boyfriend”/choreographer (a million times quoted, because they literally have one passionate encounter and then never date or interact outside the studio again…come on Jody, you’re better than this…aren’t you?). Who can blame her for falling for his bad boy charm and flawless technique, but girl, this ain’t the time! You are on the brink of your career! There are bigger “fish to fry” for god-sake. While the doe-eyed lead’s obsession with this male figure makes for the perfect dance-meets-love mini-drama, it’s also a concerning snapshot of the dominance of male authoritative power within the dance world.

“While I truly enjoy every late 90’s jam of the soundtrack, the classic beating of the pointe shoes scene, and the pure beauty of…authentic artistry…my, perhaps hundredth, glance at the values within makes me retrospectively fear for my young self as a viewing audience.”

Curtains closed on the final performance, Jody dons her semi-formal attire to hear whether or not her fate includes ABC (the “American Ballet Company”). While her decision here is gutsy, I  actually find it rather terrifying. It makes for great movie content, but Jody again falls headfirst into the outstretched arms of Cooper Nielson, and accepts a (potentially non-existent) principal dancer role in a brand new company. No, no, no, no!! Where’s the contract? Where’s the funding?! Are there even other dancers?!! Jody asks zero questions, and dives right into the opportunity. As an uber-organized, planning obsessed, practical individual, I naturally struggle with this, but now with five years of professional experience and additional years of training under my belt, I can tell you that that is not the way to accept a job. It’s the perfect lack of detail to cue the happy ending, Mandy Moore track, and end credits, but if you’re going to survive as a “bunhead” out there please don’t take a page from Jody Sawyer’s book.

Don’t get me wrong, this will forever be one of my favorite dance movies-a film that brings dancers and non-dancers alike together under the guise of the ballet world and its complexities. However, if I stood near Jody at barre I’d have to snicker to myself a bit and wonder, “girl, what are you doing with your life?” After all…

“I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you?!”

That Oldie Feel

“How can ‘something so well practiced…start to slip out of reach after a few days away’?” 

How can I still be (fairly) young (not telling), yet feel so ancient, in terms of ballet? A mere couple days off from the ballet barre can lead to a challenge like no other. Turn out, epaulement, articulation of the most finite body parts-toes, fingers, length in the back of the neck-the list of intrinsic details is lengthy. It is phenomenal, and similarly terrifying, that something so well practiced since birth can start to slip out of reach after a few days away.

Now I’ve already previously emphasized the importance of taking class. But when you’re caught within the grasp of paying bills and indulging in all the delights of summertime, time in the studio can become an irregular occurrence. I cannot even begin to explain the guilt trip that weighs on me as my time away from the studio increases. And there’s the fear that mounts with the knowledge that my next class will be a difficult one…I’m definitely in “summer-mode”, but I have entered the studio at least weekly thank goodness. There’s nothing like the fresh and casual feel of summer class—new faces mixed with old friends, and a shared appreciation of the importance of taking class that can only be felt amongst a small and random mixed age class, lined up at the barre in the early evening of a summer night.

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Sky a la “summer-mode” (PC – Me)

“There’s one key thing you should do when you start feeling ‘ancient, in terms of ballet…’ “

My saving grace when I am “off-season [and] off kilter”, is and always will be some good ol’ fashioned stretching. Again, although I preach this, sometimes it is a task that slips away from me. I must give a shout out to my amazing mother, who makes a point of completing her ballet stretches (your traditional butterfly, front to back splits, middle/straddle splits, frog) at the beginning and end of each day. The value that comes from this is priceless.

Although I know of this great value, it can be so hard to embrace the habit of consistent daily stretching, especially at this time of year. I do reverently recognize that as I grow older in age as a dancer, the process of stretching will not only help to preserve me physically, but also help me to maintain myself as a ballet dancer. It’s really very simple when you think about it. It’s just like getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and following a healthy diet-it’s for you. You can do it, or you can break the routine, but I guarantee you’re going to feel amazing if you just take care of yourself.

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Stretch…stretch….and stretch some more (PCs – Elizabeth Grande, Stephanie Hammer, & Victor Smith, respectively)

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Care. Listen. Breathe. Repeat.

“…a series of discouraging events…Time off, missed roles and shows, a walking boot fashioned with a small decorative blue bow, physical therapy, x-rays, an MRI…-negative highlights of this past year…the positives I’ll save for later…”

This is not a normal blog (it’s more like a small rant)…targeted at my ankle, not at an actual person, to clarify. Today, I present you with the question of “why?” I know everything happens for a reason, I’ve preached that myself, but I still don’t understand why physical harm occurs. Why? What’s the bigger picture? I haven’t reached an answer for that one. So I reach out to you.

Back in September, I experienced a fall while dancing that set into motion a series of discouraging events. A ballerina’s season from hell, to put it bluntly. Time off, missed roles and shows, a walking boot fashioned with a small decorative blue bow, physical therapy, x-rays, an MRI, taping, fear of jumping, self-doubt, tears, anger-negative highlights of this past year (the positives I’ll save for later, so just let me roll with this for now). According to the diagnosis I received eight months ago, I’m missing something in my right ankle—my ATFL (anterior tibiofibular ligament). Unfortunately, it did not just walk off on a journey of self-discovery, perhaps able to be convinced to return. No, it’s torn in two sad, little pieces. Fixable pieces, I believe, since surgery was offered to me, but pieces, nonetheless.

I’ve spent the past eight months since this news, trying my best to overcome my “shortcoming.” After all, the phenomenal Ashley Bouder dances sans ACL all the time! But after about four minor inversion ankle sprains, postdating my original tear to the ATFL, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to ask for help. Maybe the only way for me to regain stability, a feeling of safety, and courage to dance without limitation is to have this damage repaired.

So if you’re listening, I’m sure you most certainly don’t have an answer as to “why?” Yes, strength and wisdom comes with the territory, as I continue on this journey, but I feel enlightened enough at this point. I surrender. Each time I feel my body fail me, I lose confidence all over again (excellent article regarding the physical and emotional stresses of injury by Dance Magazine). Knowing what I lack and the associated risks I take each day haunts me all over again. I become afraid to misstep, afraid to cross train, afraid to enjoy myself, afraid to dance. And so, I lose a piece of myself. However, despite the loss, I rebuild each time, fine-tuning the process along the way. I know to care for myself, listen, and breathe. The recovery quickens, but the frustration silently mounts in the shadows. So maybe it’s time to ask for help…

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This guy’s been in charge all year & he’s not givin’ up yet…