Remember when I used to be a ballerina? The title of this post is entirely self-explanatory.
Now that I think about it, I review most of these moments quite frequently, usually as cautionary or self-esteem building tales for my students. And I mean building their self-esteem. They did quite the opposite for me, but I lived through them, so it’s really not so bad.
The Time I Fell. Really Hard.
I was a freshman in college, recently accepted to the dance program with zero idea as to what I was doing with myself. It was during the 8am ballet class- I had new block-like pointe shoes strapped to my feet and was already exhausted. We were doing some sort of waltzing thing that I loved, but the moment I took my first step, I hit a slick spot in the floor and my standing leg flew out from under me with enough force to send me completely horizontal before hitting the ground. Winded, I looked up at everyone’s ankles around me, and when the pianist didn’t stop playing, I dragged myself out of the incoming dancers’ way. Not only could I not breathe and was mortified, I was now crawling across the floor like Herbert the Pervert’s dog from Family Guy. I was more embarrassed than anything that day, but when I woke up the next morning feeling like someone was standing on my chest, I ended up at the student health clinic having x-rays done to ensure that I had not cracked any ribs. Turns out, I had bruised them significantly enough for me to not be able to move my torso for a week or two (or breathe without huffing), but was essentially fine.
The Time I Forgot Everything.
I think this is the moment that is most relieved as a teaching tool. I frequently ask my student’s “Ok…what’s going to happen to you if you forget your choreography? Yeah, nothing.” Every dancer I have ever spoken with has had this moment at some point in their life. Mine came right after a barrage of academic college finals, when it was finally time to present my solo that I had been working on for the last month in choreography class. I had spent hours staring at scantrons, and somehow, when I got onstage my brain was not able to transition from global economics back to dance quick enough. With my peers and the entire dance faculty watching, I got through the first 16 counts of my solo and stopped. I came to a grinding halt and stood staring at everyone. The music was kindly restarted for me, and I was prompted to take a few deep breaths and begin again. I did. Around the same time, I stopped again. My piece was bumped to the bottom of the program and I walked stoically into the hall to force myself to regurgitate what I had spent weeks working on. I had the option of improvising my entire solo, but I was so furious at myself at this point that I had to preserve my pride and remember everything. And I did, with a few extra embellishments. I could almost laugh about it afterwards, as my classmates came up to me one-by-one and regaled me with their own stories. It did make it a bit easier, especially knowing that my forgetfulness was not out of my being a “bad dancer,” but simply being mentally overwhelmed with projects at the time. Anyway, dancers are way tougher than they look.
The Worst Audition. Ever.
I auditioned for a local ballet company back in the summer of 2010. I saw a few familiar faces, which was nice, but right as I walked in with an index card pinned to my chest (“Number 6, Thank you very much.”), I saw a face that I recognized all too well. At my studio, we once referred to her as “The Evil.” I’m not even joking. My ballet teacher from childhood, known for her freezing, bony hands and looks of deep disgust/disapproval, was sitting at the side of the room along with other members of a panel. I thought that maybe if I didn’t make eye contact with her, she would go away. She did not, and my avoidance was futile and made me look like a crazy person. Not only did I have to feel her eyes boring holes into my back as I danced, but the studio used for the audition was intended for modern, slick enough that you couldn’t find purchase in your satin shoes if you coated the bottoms in chewing gum. I watched dancers drift and slip, and decided for the first time in my life that I was deliberately going to dance half-assed so I could get the hell out of there faster. When my number was not called to stay, I grabbed my things and all but ran to the parking lot in my tights and leotard. I remember having to consciously walk slowly and look disappointed as I left so as not to arouse suspicion. As I jogged to my car, I couldn’t help to feel like I was being followed, but my fear had manifested itself in some sort of bizarre, giddy adrenaline. I realized that, as much as I loved ballet, there are some things I just won’t put up with.