Remember: It Is All About the Journey
When I heard my name being called over the speaker at the International Ballet Festival, a rush of emotions swept over me. I had just placed third among over a hundred dancers for my solo, set to the emotional strains of “Schindler’s List” (a piece I had personally chosen). Holding my trophy, I was approached by a young girl, her eyes sparkling with dreams of ballet. “It’s magical,” she murmured wistfully. Suddenly, her smile faded into a frown. “Only… I don’t have what you have,” admitted she, alluding, I assumed, to her physique, which might have been perceived as atypical for the traditional ballerina.
“When did you fall in love with ballet?” she then asked, her eyes gleaming once again.
It had been quite some time since I had reflected on my beginning, those initial, tentative forays into the captivating yet arduous world of ballet. I found myself pondering on my unpredictable odyssey in this beautifully exacting art form…
Ballet dancing is love, that’s true. A stringent and demanding kind of love. It’s like an unspoken pledge to embrace endless hours of grueling rehearsals and endure numerous injuries, along with all the accompanying pain and exhaustion. Only after all that – and largely because of it – does ballet become magical.
Contrary to what the girl may have thought, I was not predestined to become a ballet dancer. You know those slender, graceful girls who seem as though they were born to pirouette in tutus? At the age of four, I was chubby, with plump cheeks and thick legs. No, a ballerina’s life didn’t seem to be in my stars. Perhaps an entertainer, a comedian, or even a clown, but a dancer? Unlikely.
Then came a pivotal moment. Doctors told my mother that my conspicuously crooked legs might be symptomatic of a bone condition. They advised rigorous physical therapy. When it became apparent that the therapy wouldn’t do, rather than succumbing to panic or heeding the doctors’ ominous forecasts, my extraordinary mother did something rather unorthodox – she enrolled me in ballet classes. And thus began my transformative journey.
The Beginning is Always the Hardest
It took a lot of grid and courage just to make it through those first years. But I persisted, even when I was clumsily rolling on the dance floor as others effortlessly glide by. It took a relentless commitment to pull myself out of bed at dawn or linger well after dusk, all in the name of ballet. This went on week after week, year after year. Meanwhile, many of my peers were enjoying their leisure or planning their lucrative, non-torturous futures. Above all, to withstand the aching muscles, the twisted ligaments, the agony of my stretching bones, the throbbing veins in your neck, or the desperate gasps for air as your instructor demands, “Again!” it requires an unshakeable love for the art of dance.
Then, on one magical day, I saw my reflection in a puddle and realized I had been transformed. No longer was I an awkward duckling; instead, I was elegantly pirouetting on pointers. That was the defining moment. Right there. I’d shed enough blood, sweat, and tears on the floor to proudly call myself a dancer.
Ballet is my declaration of… dependence. It took me from mere existence to a state of perpetual growth. Once I had my coming-of-age initiation in it, there was no going back. Every dance gave me something vital; it enriched my worldview and molded my character. Every challenge added to my growth, while every triumph, even the smallest, nurtured my soul.
For this, I will always and forever be indebted to my once-crooked legs.
The young girl left before I could tell her any of this. But I often think about her and hope that my words will reach her somewhere, somehow. And I hope too that one day she will have the opportunity to share her own inspiring tale with the world.
[Originally published in 2015.]
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