I was never an incredibly strong ballerina, but I loved it. It was the moments in my life when I felt strong as well as delicate, a perfect balance of athleticism and art, masculine and feminine. It has always been just want I needed no matter where I was during my day.
I do notice a difference now that I am an adult who does ballet once every couple of months as opposed to the teenager who took it three times a week. There is a change, it’s slight but it is there. My muscles remember so much of what to do, but they lack the strength to execute it properly. Frustrating and confounding within my pure love for it.
Yesterday I did a full ballet barre, and although sweat was rolling down my spine and my muscles were shaking, glimpses of clarity of movement did happen. Swift as a hummingbird, but they did exist if only momentarily.
Any time my hand would touch the barre in the past I could feel an unraveling in my chest that moved outward. Here, within the music and the concentration of movement I could still the voices and concerns in my head and just breathe with my body and be. It was prayer in motion. Meditation in the full physical sense. And I always came away, maybe not wiser, but a little more relaxed in my heart and brain.
The day my beloved dog died in college I had class in the afternoon. I felt so heartbroken I hardly got through the day but when my hand touched down on the soft, pale wood I exhaled. Did the hurt go away? No. Did I miss her any less? No. Did her death become unimportant? Hell no. But I had the chance to sit with my feelings, honor them but still expel energy elsewhere too. I have a tendency to sit and stay and look around until I’ve freaked myself out enough that I feel I can never move again. Being in grief but still finding my center was helpful and healing, if only in the moment. Which, lets face it, when dealing with hard things sometimes all we need is just a moment of respite.
So, I did the ballet barre yesterday not only because I have lofty dreams of becoming Misty Copeland but because I remembered how much I felt like me when I did. And yesterday was no different. My muscles ached and I moaned in pain but I could feel the inner me moving every so slightly, and that was a gift.
I didn’t have a lot of strength. My leg hardly gets off the floor. My back rebels, my hamstrings are tight, my ankles weak. But I did the best I could, I concentrated on one exercise at a time and when I couldn’t go on, I rested. I rested, if only for a second, to relieve the searing pain in my hip sockets, and then got right back into position and kept going.
So easy to do physically, so hard to do with ones heart and mind. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have all the answers, to know what will come next. I find myself thinking of steps 4,5,6 steps from where I am now and become paralyzed on how to get started. If I treated my life more like I treat myself at the barre, I would be better off. I would be kinder to myself, to my process and to the moment. I would be present. I would gain the strength I need slowly but without the added pressure of telling myself to ‘hurry up for god’s sake! Get over him! Find a new career! Make more money! Buy a house! Get new clothes!” If I was more quiet, if I took more time to pray (and when I say pray I mean, be here-now) then I would be poetry in motion. I would be dancing though life instead of slogging. Right now I am turning hay and water into bricks when I could, if I let myself, be flying on a trapeze with the wind in my hair.
From the highway on my way back to New York after New Years this year I saw flocks and flocks of birds rising out of fields in a great swirling motion upwards towards heaven. The geese, white bellied and striving, beat their wings so aggressively they looked as though they were going to change the pattern of the weather with their flight. I thought about how often what looks like beauty from the outside is actually a lot of hard work for the creature creating it. Ballerinas and birds alike. Not to mention, young woman trying to figure out what’s next.
Grace comes in all forms, but it is not easy. It is a minute by minute process. No bird worries about how she will fly when up in the clouds, she just figures out how to get off the ground. No Ballerina considers the exhaustion of raising her foot to her head, she just begins to raise it until she no longer can. And they rest. And try again. A little stronger in the weak places, a little more flexible in the rigid ones. One thing at a time, the next right thing, and onward.
Hands on the barre, wings beating steadfast, plie by plie, prayer by prayer we get home somehow.
That’s my hope anyway.