Yesterday marked my ballet coach’s return from vacation. I’d had two weeks without her relentless critique (which I love), and although I’d made progress in some areas, I knew she would have things to say about my inevitable technical shifts backward… even as I write this, I am finding it difficult to put into words how yesterday felt, because my body is in a kind of rebellion.
I took two classes back-to-back, and put pointe shoes on halfway through the first class, leaving them on for the remainder of the evening. Having gone against my own advice (given in my YouTube Video “Top Ten Toe-Shoe Kit Essentials”) which is to never cut your toenails directly before class, but rather cut them the night before to allow time for the skin and nail to mesh back together, my toes were in a bit of pain by the time we finished.
Unfortunately, the too-soon trimmed nails were not the only cause for suffering.
I have been working on opening up my hips and strengthening my rotation muscles through Pilates and mental imagery work. As a result, my leg muscles, tendons, and even bone structure, have altered perceptibly. At times, it feels amazing. I pull my foot up into a passé position, and I can feel the sartorius slide effortlessly into motion, while the elusive muscles just below my deriérre seem to engage without gripping, enabling a more two-dimensional, beautifully rotated position.
However, last night, as I stood in fifth position over and over again in preparation for each new combination, my wonderful coach pointed out that I had lost my proper head alignment, that up-and-back-lifted neck which facilitates all other movement, including turns and extension. When engaged, it feels like someone has you by the top-tips of your ears and is gently lifting your head off of your shoulders – it’s very freeing, actually.
She caught me in bad form again and again, and while I managed to keep smiling, I felt inwardly frustrated at myself for having lost this hard-won bit of alignment. It’s a natural thing to have happen – bad habits take time to fix, and they will try to return, particularly at the outset of change. If caught immediately, they can be fixed again, and then more easily kept at bay as time goes on. Still, my perfectionist mind wanted to sneak a baseball bat to my head, giving it a sound beating for the sins of my posture.
I knew, as I stood there trying not to hate myself, that I needed to let this habit of self-abuse go. My coach is very kind and patient – no abuse coming from that direction. I have been so used to abuse of one form or another, for so many years, that perhaps it just feels normal to do it to myself. Worse than that, I wonder if it was always and only Me filling the role of self-abuser. Hmmm. Well, that needs to change – just as my turnout needs to change: slowly, patiently, and at its own pace. All in good time, and all with love.
Partway through class, I realized I had pulled something on the right side of my back around the rib area below my shoulder blade. In an effort to hit a perfect fifth position, while maintaining proper rotation from the hip and leg muscles, AND lifting up and forward to disengage my hyper-extension habits, AND trying to find that uplifted neck and head alignment, I may have over-exerted myself. Either that, or I pulled something during an earlier stretch and was not aware until that moment. Add to that the fact that dancers moving a barre had inadvertently hit my shin at the start of class #2, plus the feeling that my ankles and feet were fighting against this strange new alignment, and you have a recipe for “time to quit.”
I decided to play the game of “One More Time.” I told my body “you can do this. There’s only 50 minutes left. There’s only 30 minutes left. Just breathe. Just one more combination and you can sit down. Okay, we got through that, now how about just ONE MORE combo? C’mon, it’s jumping, it’ll be fun. Ooh, turns! Let’s give it a try. You like this piece of music, you don’t want to miss out, do you? We can just mark through this part, it’s okay. Don’t give up. Just breathe. C’mon, One More Time.”
My body stayed the course. I finished the class with big jumps and several almost-triple turns under my belt (for some reason, my body would go for the third turn and my supporting foot would stubbornly come down off pointe, as if it were afraid to stay up that long. I suspect there is either a fear-block there, the loss of head-neck alignment is to blame, or else my hyper-extension is overriding my turnout, pulling the leg out of position and forcing the foot to come down out of the turn too early). My brain is ready to do 5 and 6 turns, I can feel it. Once again, I must be patient and wait for my body to catch up.
When I got home, something strange happened. My body seemed to shiver suddenly, and it felt like all the nerves inside me were firing off in protest, like a fireworks exploding in my bloodstream. It didn’t hurt exactly, but it wasn’t comfortable, either. I suddenly burst out crying, although I did not feel sad. It felt like my body was metamorphising, and it was so rapid a change that neither I nor it knew what to do. I soaked my feet in warm water with lavender essential oil. I fed myself a smoothie made with broccoli, strawberries, bananas, walnuts, honey and milk. I later ate some pasta with homemade marinara. My dear husband massaged my feet and brushed away my tears. After all of that, I crashed into sleep.
This morning, I feel very tired. I also feel calm and determined. I will go back to class tonight, and I will be very, very patient with my body. My body may try to rebel, but it is no match for my spirit. They are coming to an agreement – they are starting to work together, like gem fusion, and I believe this will be the key to a new level of success in my journey as a dancer.