I am a ballerina. I’ve finally come to terms with the term.
You see, growing up, I was a huge tomboy. I played in the mud, I rode my bike down giant hills, I loved playground football and anything else that involved shows of speed, strength and general bad-assness. I hated dresses more than anything else in the world, and if my hair wasn’t pulled back in a ponytail, it was tucked up under a white Nike baseball cap (and then I chopped it all off in sixth grade).
But there was this other side of me. One I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile with my tomboy. I wanted more than anything else in the world to dance on stage in a tutu and pointe shoes. To move gracefully under the lights and be lifted above the stage as if I were lighter than air. Needless to say, my tomboy wasn’t cool with the uber-feminine term “ballerina.”
I was never shy about telling people that I danced. I was so happy to finally have the opportunity that I’m amazed I didn’t shout it from the rooftops! But I would say “ballet dancer” or “I do ballet” instead of “ballerina.”
When I came to college, it was easy to just say “dancer,” because I did or had done a little of everything by that point. I had a very strong ballet vocabulary, I had done a tiny bit of tap and jazz, and I was learning to love modern dance a little more with every kick-ass class. I’d even dabbled in flamenco and hip hop! (Ok, I did flamenco once, but it was awesome) Dancer fit better, and people wouldn’t chime in with the “B” term, because I wasn’t so focused on one style anymore.
When I was a first-time senior in college, I was approached by one of my very favorite people and asked to teach a pre-ballet (creative movement) class at her studio in town. I was flattered, floored, terrified and excited. I knew that this was the start to the rest of my life as a dancer, and I couldn’t wait to start teaching. Even though I wasn’t just a ballerina anymore, I finally connected with the term, and used it with pride. That one class turned into two, and pretty soon I was teaching almost every week night.
After my second senior year in college (give me a break! No one finishes in 4 years anyway) I realized that I was going to have to start paying for my education very soon. And because I was broke and trying to help support a family, I realized that I had to get a different job. I say “different job” instead of “real job” for several reasons: teaching dance is a real, noble job; you can definitely make nice money teaching dance, but you have to teach a lot of classes to make that work; a job is a job is a job–if you’re getting paid to do something, it’s a job. But alas, teaching didn’t have dental attached, and my baby had cavities.
For a long time, I entertained the idea that I could maintain a full time job, teach dance, find time to keep rehearsing and performing, AND spend quality time with my family. After all, I had just finished going to school, teaching, working another part time job, rehearsing, performing, studying and spending time with…Nope, there just wasn’t enough time spent with family. I had neglected–no matter how unintentionally–some amazing, wonderful, incredibly patient people so that I could be a dancer. Although I loved the work that I was doing, I finally realized that I couldn’t maintain the manic pace and keep sanity for myself and my family. I’m sure that Wonder Woman could somehow make everything work, but she never did return my calls…
So now I work behind a desk. I get to interact with lots of great people. I have amazing insurance. I count my blessings every day. But I miss dance. I miss going to class. I miss seeing smiles on dancers who finally get the correction I gave them. I miss the struggle of working on a step or a phrase, and then mastering it and turning it into art. I even miss the long hours and late night rehearsals sometimes.
So how do I not let myself be sad? How do I keep my dancer self as fulfilled as my everyday self? It’s actually a very small thing, but it makes a big difference.
I turnout. I stand in first position while waiting for my latte. I do ankle circles behind my desk. I talk about dance, and watch youtube videos of performances. Sometimes–and don’t tell anyone I told you this–I do pirouettes in empty public restrooms. It keeps me sane until I can make it to my weekend rehearsal, or my living room to bust it out. They’re all small reminders of the ballerina that I always am, no matter if I’m sitting at a desk or dancing in a studio.
Why am I telling you all this? I’m not sure, actually. Maybe because I’ve only recently realized that the only thing that can let my dream of dance whither away is me. Or maybe because I realized that my life isn’t on hold. Ever! I’m living my life, all the time. God didn’t give us a pause button, and there’s no rewind or fast forward. My life may not look exactly like I imagined it would, but I’m not going to let that stop me from being happy. And actually, it might even be better. My family is happier now that I’m home every night, I’m happier now that I get to spend quality time with them, and I’m still dancing as often as possible. I appreciate everything that much more because I have to plan and work for it. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
How do you “turnout”?