Aminta Ballerina. My love/hate relationship with ballet. An Essay.
This post is also available in: Spanish
One instructor once told me I had a lot of talent and that I could be a great ballerina. “But from here to here,” she said, pointing from her brow to the top of her head “you have nothing.” I was 11 years old. Photos by Beto Ramos and CMFoto
Today I have something a little bit different to show you. If you’re here is because you love a good outfit. I obviously do too, but I started this blog because I wanted to help people look and feel good – I believe they both go hand in hand, but by now we’ve known each other for a while and I want to start sharing other things about my life besides what I like to wear in the hopes it will help you too.
I want to talk to you today about something that shaped my life- classical ballet. You’ve seen me dance happily in previous posts, but you didn’t get to see me crying because I didn’t get the role I wanted, or because my instructor had yelled at me in front of everybody, or simply because I was exhausted. I want you to know that I wasn’t always so confident, and that I didn’t always feel pretty, because I know you’ve felt this way too- and we’re all in this together. Feel free to skip down to the pictures, but if you want to learn a little more about me, about the sacrifices I had to make, and about some of the harshness ballerinas put themselves through (because nobody is forcing them to dance- this is a life they choose) then read on!
I hate ballet because…
Classical ballet is intended for a specific body type. I have a typical Latina body: I’m a triangle, or pear shape- meaning I have narrow shoulders, but wide hips and thighs. This is the body I have genetically inherited and I cannot change its basic architecture. My ballet instructors were always bothering me about my weight. My other dancer friends, who were going through the same thing would offer to help. “Let’s do sit ups,” one would say in between classes. “You need to lose 10-13 kg. (23-28 lb.) and you’ll be fine,” another suggested, even though I was only 55 kg. (122 lb.) and 16 years old at the time. One even recommended I try a special tea. I thought it would suppress my appetite, but what it did was make me go to the bathroom once every hour. I’m not joking- I went to the bathroom one time, every 60 minutes for two days. I kept myself awake because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up to use the restroom. Even after the bizarreness had slowed down I still kept taking the tea a few more days. Ballet had turned me into a masochist.
Ballet took a toll on my body, but it also altered the way I saw myself in the mirror.
One time, after a dress rehearsal where I was dancing the tedious pas de trois from La Bayadere, the artistic director called all dancers onstage and said something along the lines of:
“Some of you have extra fat in your legs, you know who you are. There’s nothing I can do about it at this point, but just be aware of how you look.”
I almost cried. I can’t believe she had singled me out in front of everybody. I had worked so hard! I had starved myself. I had taken swim classes, joined my mom at the gym, I had done everything I could and still she had humiliated me like that. Later in the dressing room one of the girls I was dancing the pas de trois with told me she couldn’t believe the director would say that about her! I was surprised she thought she meant her, because she clearly meant me- I was the fat one. Later on that same day, the other girl I was dancing with said: “Did you hear what she said about me?” I’m pretty sure most girls onstage that day felt her words were meant towards her. Because when you’re constantly being told that you’re not jumping high enough, turning fast enough, or you’re one second behind the music, you can’t help but think you’re simply not good enough.
Everything in life requires a sacrifice. I had already sacrificed enough to classical ballet, and I was not willing to sacrifice anything more. After a particularly taxing (both mentally and physically) Nutcracker, where we had five shows in one weekend, right in the middle of school exams, I’ve had enough. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving; I just didn’t come back the next season.
I still love my instructor/director, and I don’t resent her one bit. When I go to Venezuela I bring her flowers. I know she was fully aware of the stress she was putting us through, because her own director was probably just as harsh with her. This is just the way ballet is- an army loaded with tutus and body glitter; with an artistic director instead of a drill sergeant.
I love ballet because…
I know it may be hard for non-dancers to believe that after all this I would still love ballet. Classical ballet is a beautiful art, and I do not regret dancing because it has shaped the person I’ve become. These are some of the important life lessons I learned from my 10+ years dancing.
- You will fall many times but you must always get up, sometimes with the help of others.
- If you’re not willing to take on a task there’s someone else who would love to take your place.
- Working as a team is crucial. It’s not about what’s best for you, but about what’s best for the group as a whole.
- That said, if you get a solo, that’s your time to shine!
- Someone will always envy you and you will always envy someone. Instead of feeling bitter, recognize the characteristics you desire in the person you envy and work hard to achieve them.
- A ballerina I used to dance with once said in a magazine interview that even if you’re the most beautiful girl in the world some people will still call you ugly. Don’t listen to them. Rise above.
I will always, always, always consider myself a ballerina. I still take classes every once in a while. The difference is that now I’m not an impressionable 16-year-old, but a woman who has made peace with her body, and more importantly, with herself. In class, every time I hear the first few notes of the piano I think: “God, what have I gotten myself into-again.” But then something happens. I stand in the first position, my whole body is tense. All my muscles are pulled taut, my shoulders are down, my abs and glutes firmly contracted. Yet I move my arm ever so softly, and Vaganova style, my gaze follows it along with my head. And I just feel so beautiful. At the barre, wherever my hand goes my eyes follow. And I want to look in the mirror to check my form, but I need to feel my body more than I need to see it. At that very moment, I feel like the most beautiful woman who ever lived. And that’s when I’m reminded that no matter how much I hate it, I will always love ballet. I’m still a masochist.
Among other things, the Vaganova technique focuses on épaulement, or upper body movement. The wrist and the fingers should always be soft, with thumb and middle finger close together and a raised pointer finger.
If you wanna see me dancing: