Last month was a doozy. With a lingering cold that snuck up on me and quietly took me down like a rhino in a molasses swamp, things were already looking dreary. But then came the hamstring pull. This nasty injury had been threatening and insinuating for months. It wasn’t until I tried to go into my splits that I realized there was a real problem. My hamstring had turned to stone, and it had zero elasticity. Basically, it was done. So, minimum two weeks relative rest for the leg. This meant taking barre only, no big stretches that involved the hamstring, lots of PT, and a lot of watching other dancers making progress while I sat on the sidelines. If you’re an athlete, you get me when I say that this is TORTURE.
I already struggle with anxiety, something I plan to talk about more in future blog posts and YouTube videos. I feel embarrassed to admit it, as I grew up believing I was simply a moody child, and those weird flashes of pain that came in waves through my upper body were just random… Yeah. I know it sounds crazy, but I never looked into these issues until adulthood, and now at least I feel like I am aware of the problem. That’s the first step, right? Awareness? Well, it felt like, as I tried to get through ballet class last month with the cold-and-hamstring combo, my old pal anxiety was getting revved up for a big attack. Thankfully, Roctober was just around the corner.
Yep, Roctober. It’s a weekend event just outside of Victorville, CA, where people of all ages bring rockets to shoot into the sky on a dry lake bed surrounded by craggy mountains and abandoned buildings. It is the desert at its most unappealing. And, it is fabulous. My family and I went to this event two years ago, so I knew what I would be in for, but this time, I really NEEDED to get away from all things ballet and just ZONE OUT. Of course, when you are an Assistant Scoutmaster, you are in charge of managing several young Boyscouts, so “zoning out” is not really an option. I admit that I feel proud to be an ASM, and the only female ASM at that – I do wish other moms would join in, though. My mom would have been an ASM – she loved camping and dirt and all things outdoors. But back to the “no zoning out” issue. Despite the demands of leadership, I hoped to sneak a few minutes of peace and quiet (yes, at a rocket launch), and at the very least, enjoy the opportunity to focus on other human beings not interested in anything pointe shoe or extension-related.
I got my wish. We spent a day-and-a-half building rockets, cooking simple yet tasty meals, inhaling lots of white dust, and shooting our strange creations into the hemisphere over and over again. My anxiety still tried to ruin everything with a general lurking sense of doom and gloom, but luckily for me, I had my family around me to keep me smiling through it all. I think they are the greatest gift I have ever received. On those days when it feels like I can’t take it anymore – my mom’s death, physical injuries, financial concerns, self-doubt, fear of the future, regrets of the past – I turn to my husband and two step-children, and they are the very essence of love. It’s that simple. Their love is not contingent upon my success or failure – it is consistent and it is true. I love them above all else – even ballet (if you are a ballet dancer, you understand that this is a statement of monumental proportions).
After a day filled with cooking, cleaning, supervising, managing, putting up tents and volunteering in 100-degree weather (or so it felt) at the rocket-launch pad, the sun finally deigned to go down, and we were left with a soothing blanket of stars to round out the night. We dragged our chairs up near the launching area and hunkered down to watch rockets fitted with glow-in-the-dark accoutrements race to the moon. I put on my music via iPhone, which until then had remained pretty much out of sight and mind (something I secretly long for – a world without iPhones – I should get another Walkman) and allowed the night to wash over me.
Suddenly, I felt as if I were somewhere back in time, reliving various moments of utter joy and peace. And, funny enough, they all involved camping. That trip I took to the Gorge in Kentucky with my boyfriend and his friends back when I danced with Cincinnati Ballet. The times my parents and I would drive to the Smokey Mountains or Stone Mountain in Georgia for a laid-back evening of laser-light shows and hikes through the pines. All those nights I spent at Cedars Camps in Lebanon, Missouri, watching the other kids perform skits, wondering if that cute boy from across the lodge would come talk to me, singing songs with my cabin-mates, skipping back to our beds in the hopes that this time, we’d won the award for best-cleaned cabin, which meant a root beer float party awaiting our return. What is it about the night sky that just melts anxiety away? It seems to whisper to me, “everything is okay. Nothing really matters other than this moment, right here, right now. Your friends, your family, your mother and all those that you have lost, they are not far away. They are with you, they are safe in your heart.” And even as I smiled at the thought of this, tears still escaped from the corners of my eyes, and I had to take a deep breath, letting it gush out like a release-valve, to keep my heart from overloading, exploding like a rocket with no parachute.
Sometimes, it feels like hard work to be happy. But taking a day or two to go somewhere outside of my day-to-day routine, despite its challenges, actually helps to shake out the tension hiding beneath my smile. And the memories we made on this trip will feed my smile for a long time.
I returned to ballet class on Monday, and was not surprised to find that my body felt better. It felt rested. It felt like it had a moment to just STOP, look around, and let go of all concerns. My extension improved. My balance felt stronger than ever. Why is it so hard for dancers to take a moment to just be human?
It is the art of Taking Time Off.