Hanging the Tutu

Since I was 4 years old, black leotards and pink thights were my second skin. Everyday I was waiting anxious for the next ballet class. The days I didn’t have class, I’ll come home and spend the afternoon dancing through my own cd’s of Tchaikovsky.  When I didn’t have music, I would hum to the rhythms in my head and the songs I would make up in my heart. I looked up to the soloists of the school and pretended to be them at home, practicing my grand- jetes and improving my flexibility. These home performances though, had its public.

In contrast with present day me, I was always trying to have the spotlight on me. In family gatherings, I’ll ask my mom to make me a presentation to the public, which always consisted of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Then I would come down the stairs and present my own ballet. If I messed up or if someone else interrupted me, I had to start all over, making my family groan in desperation.

It felt like I was most at home when my hair was tied up in a bun and my feet stretch up at the barre. As I grew, physically and mentally, I was always focused on giving my best so my body was prepared for the pointe shoes. Before every class, I enjoyed stretching my muscles until I felt them become warm and slowly awaken for dancing. I started from the toes and slowly made my way up to the neck, feeling like I  was fine-tuning an instrument. I would make the most out of every class. Whether it was stretching my leg higher or bending my back further, as a former perfectionist, I always wanted to be the best.

And I did work hard for it. I had one of the three main spots in my group. First line for every performance at the theatre. Dancing as corps in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and many others. Teachers will use my feet as reference for the class of how a good pointe would look like and the school thought I was finally ready for my first pointe shoes. But I still dreamed of having one of the main spots at the school. I wanted the roles of Giselle, Titania, the White Swan or Snow White. Ballet was the only thing I knew how to do and what I imagined myself doing until my body couldn’t take it. I just thought there was so much time left until that moment.

I was skeptical when the director told me I had to visit an orthopedic doctor. The next day, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, having to use a brace that hug my whole torso, leaving my body sweaty and bruised, not longer delicate as  that of a ballerina. The doctor told me I had to use the brace 24/7. I asked “what about ballet?” and I still remember the exact words of his response, “Do you really think ballet is helping your spine? You will only take off that brace for showering, that’s it.”  I was heartbroken. I felt like everything I worked so hard for was ripped away from me and I was so lost. Instead of dancing my heart out everyday, I was frozen.

Soon I mastered another type of dance. The dance between brace to brace, doctor to doctor and ultimately surgery, is a hard one to learn. However, you don’t get a standing ovation for this one. After the surgery, I remember walking for the first time from the bed to the door and feeling like a 2 year old, having two nurses hold me like if I was learning to walk for the first time. I was mad at my feet for failing me for the first time in my life. I had lost the flexibility I worked so hard for in those 4 hour physical preparation classes for pointe shoes.

I used to think that after the surgery I’ll go back to my former self. But the rods on my back no longer allowed me to bend my back further as I used to. I was happy I no longer had to use a brace, yet the sudden realization that my body will never be the same was a hard one to swallow. The brace was no longer the reason I couldn’t dance. My new spine was.  I was always in control of my own body. I watched as my body became something so far removed from what it was, it seemed foreign. I went from having a body that moved in any beautiful position I desired with poise and agility, to having a body that was out of shape and stiff .

I had to say goodbye to the dancer I once was. I mourned the loss as if it was a death. I cried enough tears for every dance step I learned to perform.  I now have memories of a time I cannot bring back. For years I tried to pour myself into different hobbies or interests. I didn’t know what to do next. Slowly I began to find a new home for my creativity. I developed my art skills and poured the pain I felt into my drawings. Later on, I found an admiration for all arts and a place for it through my words and blog. Although my eyes still tear up at the sight of a ballet presentation or at reminiscing my own, I love what I do now, though it’ll never compare to the passion I once felt.

I can picture myself and the memories like faded black and white photographs of someone I once knew. I still wish my mind could force my body to do what it cannot. Yet, I find solace in knowing that I now dance through my words and through my art like I used to some time ago.

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