Starting with Wednesday: took Men’s Class. The pirouettes a la segonde are improving – a lot, in fact. I can feel my sartorius engaging and initiating the movement. This means my core, my hip rotation, is strengthening and staying in proper alignment to support the movement, rather than going in and out. This “in and out” is what causes my leg to rotate inward, slightly, when moving into second position just before pulling in to passe on any fouette. It looks like a fish floundering – not good. So, when I say that things are improving, it is a BIG DEAL. Does any of this make sense? To me, yes. Getting a smile and a murmur of encouragement from the guys feeds me, and I feel like maybe I have a shot at all of this. However, looking in the mirror, I see my body under the black unitard and I want to throw up. Too fat. Okay, “fat” is not the right word. I know I am not fat by any societal standards. But, in the world of ballet, I feel far from acceptable. That’s putting it lightly. I feel like my body is a joke. And so, the monster that has lived with me since childhood, the monster I only recognized a few years ago with the help of therapy, rears its tricky head: Anxiety, thy name is self-loathing.
Thursday: I make the mistake of looking up photos from a competition I did last month. Hoping to find something encouraging. Hoping to be proven wrong. I am not actually out of shape, my legs are not actually logs of misshapen clay; I can have moments of grace, right?
Each photo pulls me down deeper into the well of depression, as Anxiety gives me a good tongue-lashing: “See? SEE?!!!! You have NOT improved. You are NOT beautiful. You have absolutely no business being a ballet dancer, much less to call yourself a “ballerina badass.” You are OVER. It is all OVER. Just give up. Just give up JUST GIVE UP–”
I shut the computer. I fight the desire to scream and take a deep breath. I have a pointe class to attend. All I have to do is get through an hour and a half of pointe class. Then I can get back to hating myself. The thought repeats in my mind “I want to die,” but I have enough experience with Anxiety to know that this is just the desperate phrase of a desperate nervous disorder trying to control me. I let the thought pass through me and focus on getting dressed. Sometimes, it is literally one step at a time. Put on the pink tights, one leg at a time. Get the leotard. Put it on. Pull your hair up into a bun. No, it does not have to be perfect. Okay, yes it does, but not as perfect as it was last week. This week, it’s all about getting to the next thing. Woody Allen says 90% of success is just showing up.
Just show up.
I get to the studio and climb the stairs to the second floor where the pointe class will take place in half an hour. Enough time to warm up, to do some Pilates and get the core muscles awake. As usual, I avoid eye contact with most, if not all, the other dancers. Eye contact means connecting, which means letting others in to the hell that is my mental state at this current moment. Even on the good days, I don’t like to let everyone in. Being introverted (great combo, huh – anxiety and introversion, I’m guessing this is a thing) means that each time I connect with someone, I feel a little bit more of my energy drain out. I need this energy for the dancing. And, I don’t want everyone knowing every little thing about me (she says as she types this on a blog that is on the internet that is available for anyone to read).
I am stuck in the land of self-hatred today. So much so that I pick up an old habit, one I thought I had dropped years ago: after a particular combination at the barre, when I feel my legs were especially disappointing and loggish, I actually slap myself in the face. This was a favorite move of mine in the past, as a way to beat myself into submission. Because hey, if I didn’t do it, who would? How was I supposed to improve as a dancer if I didn’t keep my over-sized ego in check? From my experience, the times I thought I was doing well were the times I failed. The times I thought I was subpar were often, if not always, the times when I succeeded, landed a role, a job, or even a compliment. Therefore, it is best not to trust my feelings. God, what a mess.
I complete sets of Italian fouettes on both sides. Progress. I complete 20 regular fouettes on the left and something like 25 on the right. Progress.Is it any good? Does it look any good? Doubtful. But my body is actually moving around the bases. My spot is improving. I can feel that I am improving in spite of the self-loathing. Maybe this is the only way to progress. I don’t know anymore – or at least, I don’t know today.
Friday, I speak to my coach. I share my feelings with her. I cry. I fear it will never be enough. That all of this was a waste. She tells me that if I were auditioning nationwide, she is sure I’d book something. However, if I plan on putting all my eggs in one basket, the chances are slimmer. She just can’t guarantee me anything under these circumstances. But she thinks my legs look great. I want to believe her. Anxiety has other plans.
So, it’s Saturday. Just show up. Try not to hit yourself. Try not to hate yourself. Enjoy the music, enjoy the dancing. As my coach said, no matter what, enjoy this moment in time, and enjoy dancing. Because, job or not, all of this, someday, will end.