Exhaustion

Whenever I find myself in a situation where I am consistently unhappy, the first thing my mother will ask me is “have you been going to ballet?”

It’s a funny question to ask a distraught college student, but for me it makes all the difference. Ballet exhausts me, but in a good way. It’s the kind of exhaustion that feels earned and valuable. That kind of tired feet, aching back, prideful smile exhaustion. Sure, it still hurts, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.

I went back to ballet tonight after an unintentionally long break. I wanted to go back last week but ended up catching a pretty miserable cold that triggered another problem and extended the illness. In a nutshell, going to ballet would have been a bad idea.

Tonight I am exhausted. It feels amazing. I feel rejuvenated, my boyfriend thinks I’m happier, and I can’t wait for my head to hit my pillow.

Eloragh

Reaching for What You’re Bad At

I am notorious for enjoying things that I suck at. For example, my body is not really built well for ballet. It doesn’t want to contort itself into the positions that the art form requires. Yet, I still go and dance and have improved tremendously over the past two years.

Calculus kicked my ass today. I know I enjoy math and want to enjoy the process of it, but I find it difficult to do so when I’m so overwhelmed. With some patience, I hope the outcome will be similar to my experience in ballet.

Eloragh

Rejected

Tomorrow marks the start of my last week at Ballet Divertimento. Although I have enjoyed my time here, I am happy to say I won’t be returning to this specific school. Today was a wake-up call for me in terms of ballet and I saw exactly how the art I had fallen in love with could slowly kill me.

I met my friend for breakfast this morning. She is everything a ballet dancer should be – kind, resilient, strong, devoted, passionate, hard-working, loving, etc. She had been using this intensive as an audition for the academic program at the school and had been rejected on Friday. They rejected her for a few reasons, one of them being her weight.

I want to make it clear that she is not in anyway overweight. She is not unhealthily thin, but she is certainly not heavy. She, on the other hand, very much thinks she is. I left the cafe a little bit later with a lot on my mind. On my way to the metro station, I came to the conclusion that I would not pursue a professional career in ballet or even entertaining the idea of it.

It’s funny because I say this as if I ever had the chance of having a professional career, which I really didn’t. However, my friend’s disheartening end to her time at Ballet Divertimento did remind me of how unwilling and unkind the world of classical ballet is. Considering that I started late and do not have a body well suited to ballet has made it very difficult for me to find training, let alone perform.

Reality dictates that we acknowledge certain truths. We can choose to fight these truths or allow them to exist within their given plane, choosing to abdicate instead. I chose abdication. I could force my body into an unnatural state, get my way into a dance company, and say “ha! I won” before dropping dead. But I would rather live my best life and allow my love for ballet to persist.

This past week, I watched another friend break her foot. She was also at the intensive to try and get into the school’s academic program. I think her and I both knew, deep down, that she was a beautiful dancer, but the school was so skewed in its perception that it would never want her. Despite this, she soldiered on. Working hard through every class, every boring lecture, every plie. Now, her foot is broken, it may never be the same, she may never dance again, and it’s all because of a stupid school that didn’t care about her.

But I do. I care about her. If I were her, I would want to scream at the artistic director. I would want to write and write and write about how angry I am that young women such as her would endure such immense pain for the attention of those that would scorn them.

I love ballet. I hate ballet culture. I’ve never even really enjoyed performing ballet. All I want out of ballet is the opportunity to progress and find the beauty in my efforts. I refuse to break my back while trying to fit into the mold of a dancer. Ballet brought me life and joy when I was in 10th grade and I will never allow a school or a company to wring that happiness from it. They would take my love, they would take my passion and hard work and dedication and wring it from me until I had nothing left. I refuse to hate ballet, even if that means it will never be my life.

Eloragh

Deficit

My health has always been a source of anxiety for me. I’ve been overweight, underweight, all over the scale, but never intentionally. For most of my life, I ate intuitively. That is to say, when I was hungry, I ate, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t. I’m fairly sure almost everyone operates off of this system to some degree or another. However, when my health became a primary concern, I started counting calories and macros to give myself a better idea of how much I should be eating and where my energy should come from.

I haven’t tracked my food intake in roughly a year. Similarly to many people who follow their food for any period, I became a bit too involved in it and had to call it quits. I did gather a good amount of data on how I eat and how to optimize my intake before my control began to falter. Ever since then, I’ve maintained a healthy weight and continued my routine and diet.

When I stopped eating meat in October, I had to readjust to make sure I was still getting adequate amounts of protein and calories. I started eating more calorie dense foods such as peanut butter, frozen meals, and energy bars to make up the intake lost by leaving meat behind. I quickly learned that the energy held in these dense foods made it easy for me to get my calories without spending a half an hour eating. I restructured my diet to be calorically dense during the week and calorically spread out during the weekend to maximize efficiency and socialization.

Ballet changed that. I’m almost done with my four week intensive in Montreal, and I haven’t quite felt myself during it. I’ve been irritable, irrational, upset, lethargic, and not performing well. Yesterday, I tried on a pair of my shorts to find that they no longer fit. I was pretty upset; I hadn’t changed my diet that much, I had been working out more than usual, and I was walking everywhere. I decided to call it a night, not wanting to dwell on the knowledge that I had gained weight.

This morning I woke up early and realized I had no coffee in my apartment. I went to a nearby cafe and, essentially, said fuck it and bought a chocolate croissant and a vanilla latte. I don’t eat much sugar, but this morning I was hungry and unhappy about my experience during the previous night. Low and behold, my energy levels were significantly better today. I was able to focus better than I had since the first day of the intensive. I often talk to loved ones about the importance of blood sugar and keeping it stable to maintain my sanity, but I hadn’t thought much about it during this intensive.  It still didn’t add up though – I realized that I hadn’t been eating enough to make up for all of my lost energy, but why didn’t my shorts fit?

The reality is, I have gained weight. However, that weight is primarily lean muscle. I was not eating enough, that I know for sure, and it was causing a lot of fatigue because what I was eating was being directed towards my exhausted muscles. So, my shorts don’t fit because I’ve lost fat and gained an inch of muscle because of my excess rotation during the day.

What did I learn? Well, I discovered the same thing that I learned from my intensive last year – weight fluctuates. I gained ten pounds when I went to CPYB last summer, but most of my clothes still fit when I went home. Everything I own except that one pair of shorts still fit well. I’m not willing to sacrifice all of the efforts I have put into this intensive because it’s causing my body to change. I came to Montreal because I want my body to change. I want it to become stronger and more flexible and capable of enduring six hours of dancing every day. If that means I lose a pair of shorts for the time, so be it.

When I find myself focusing on how much my body has reacted to this experience, I try to remember that there are many more ways to measure my success. I can lift my leg higher, I can hold my rotation better during difficult exercises, and I feel stronger than I did before I came to Montreal. Life is often about aesthetics, but health cannot be sacrificed for them.

Eloragh

Corrections

As a ballet dancer, I get a lot of corrections. In fact, I go to class and hope that my teacher takes time to correct everything I do wrong. After my day is done, I have a notebook where I write down every last piece of critique or advice that any of my instructors have given me throughout the day. Their thoughts are that valuable to me.

Some dancers have an incredibly difficult time when getting corrections. They see it as a teacher picking on them or criticizing their ability, which can really impede their progress. It can be frustrating to witness those people when you understand where they are in their mind and how far they’ll need to go to move past that mindset. We don’t go to class six days a week and push our bodies to their breaking point because we already have perfect technique, we do it because we know we have the potential to be better. However, being better often requires direction from someone who has already been in our (pointe) shoes. It requires acknowledging that we will always be stronger and weaker in some areas of our dancing, but that constant search for balance is what makes ballet an addicting art.

That is why I treasure criticism and corrections so much. I hold the highest respect for my instructors, as ballet is a horribly frustrating art for everyone involved. External rotation of the hips is something you can’t teach, it’s a feeling each student has to develop differently. I know I can be a frustrating student. I work incredibly hard, but I don’t have the best rotation or the best lines or the best back, etc. I do have a few things going for me, such as my superhuman hyper-extension and extreme passion for the art form. Despite my setbacks, I enjoy knowing that I will always have something to work on and strive for.

Ballet has brought me a lot more than strength and flexibility (although I very much appreciate those two contributions), it has also given me an immense appreciation for criticism and those who are willing to provide it. When I finally understood that a teacher will only give corrections to those that want to get better, I was so happy to hear “point your foot, Eloragh!” from halfway across the studio. It’s motivating that someone recognizes my hard work and wants to give me more opportunities to push myself.

I will admit that some teachers go so far. Last summer I went to Carlisle, PA for a five-week intensive ballet program that I did not enjoy. It was obvious that the teachers didn’t want me there, the administration was not willing to be flexible, and the technique was so extreme that I ended up injuring my lower back by rotating too much. If I had stayed another week, I could have crushed some of the smaller vertebrae near my tailbone. So, yes, criticism can go too far, but in appropriate doses, it can be an essential source of information and wisdom.

I often find myself being very critical of the work I do outside of ballet. Any suggestion of any slight adjustment in something I produced makes me question everything about the product. It’s more difficult – but increasingly important – that I apply my mindset of gratefulness towards criticism or corrections for any kind of work I do. I try to remind myself that if they didn’t think I could do better, they wouldn’t ask me to strive for more.

So, in some ways, I pity the dancers that won’t or can’t take corrections. They are limiting their achievements due to a fear of acknowledging that they are less than perfect. I was only able to start improving when I accepted that perfection is unachievable, but still something to strive for. When I find myself upset that I will never be a flawless dancer with beautifully refined technique, I remind myself of this quote by Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Eloragh