Why is it so hard to accept praise, or more to the point, believe the positive? When your teacher tells you to pull up, to stretch your knees or that there should be more energy in your dancing, there is no doubt in your mind that she is not right. However, when that same teacher tells me my moves are good, nice or beautiful, I think she´s just being encouraging. You know, doing her job and all that. Positive feedback from the teacher is among the most important things in ballet class, and I love getting praise as much as the next dancer. It tells me that I´m at least doing something better, if not right. But beautiful? Good? Nah, whenever I hear those appraisals, all I´m thinking is that my teacher is being very nice.
Ballet is all about the pursuit for perfection. And yet nobody ever thinks of themselves as perfect. Not the gifted, not the professionals, not the talent-in-waiting. Not even the Rojos, Polinas, Ferris or Corellas of the ballet world (or so I assume, based on any interview from any dancer I´ve ever read). It´s a complete mystery to me, because I think they are all amazing, gorgeous and perfect in every possible way! I guess you can keep rising that bar(re) so high that it will take a pair of wings and immortality to ever get there. Then again it is exactly that pursuit of the presumably unattainable which makes ballet the most beautiful and exhilarating artform to watch! And let´s be real here.. Would not ultimate and flawless perfection rob you of the excitement, the element of surprise, and of those sweet moments when everything comes together? After all, ballet is a living art, not for robotic bodies or minds.
|Kirsty Martin of Australian Ballet, photo Tim Richardson.|
I have to admit that I suffer from the occasional bout of perfectionism. Combine that with its cousin procrastination and it´s a less than productive combo.. In college I had the hardest time finishing my written assignments on time. I could spend endless hours tweaking sentences and chapters, never being quite happy with the final outcome. Putting the work off as far as possible gave me the necessary impetus to get going, and the pressure to write the perfect awe-inducing paper was off. Procrastinating also meant I would never have to find out if having done it all on time would have been good enough in the end. In a sense that is why ballet is ideal for me, because there is no chance for procrastinating. You can dance only in the moment, do the pirouette or leave the floor.. But the quest for perfectionism does get to me.
In Finnish there is a saying that goes tieto lisää tuskaa. I know there has to be an equivalent in English, but basically it means that the more you know the more you suffer. When I started ballet, I was a blissfully ignorant tabula rasa, which come to think of it, not at all a bad thing. I understood that the advanced and pro crowd was in a world of its own, and that our adult beginners class was a mere approximation of the art of ballet. I also knew that I would never have been on a road to professional dancing, so no expectations, no pressure. That is until I became desperately hungry for more!
|The perfect Tamara Rojo. Photo: David Sandison.|
After less than two years I started taking classes as much as 6-8 per week, reading up on ballet history, going to every live performance I could afford, and quite frankly, becoming pretty obsessed with ballet. I loved how dancing had changed my body and the perception of myself. I was healthier, happier and I had great fun with my fellow dancers. However, I was also becoming increasingly frustrated, about not having a natural body for ballet. I am not super flexible, my turn-out is mediocre at best and I sure don´t have the look of a ballet dancer. This started to bother me more and more, even though I was a recreational dancer, in it for the joy! But I wanted to be proud of my work, blend in with the good girls and be that beautiful dancer I had always dreamed of being. Finally, when I was going through rough times in my personal life, I no longer had the motivation to dance and quit.
|Photo: Gene Schiavone|
I came back some five years ago after not dancing for three years. This time I was as excited as I had been for the first time around. I delighted in every muscle that I rediscovered, and in every little progress I made. My old teacher gave me a warm welcome, and even though I had put on a lot of weight I was not embarrassed about my body, not like I thought I would be. Then, somewhere along the road, I surprised myself. I had new teachers pushing me to go further, and so I went. I advanced past my former level. My extensions are now higher, my turns have (sometimes) tripled, my jumps are bouncier, my technique is over all better. I have also learned to accept my limitations and can handle my occasional frustrations. Guess I have grown up.
Most importantly, I enjoy my dancing more than ever. There are even those rare moments when everything comes together, and I feel like a real dancer. And this is the biggest revelation of all: when my teacher tells me to present myself, to be sensuous and elegant, I know I do not have to be perfect in every way. I can still become the beautiful dancer I have always wanted to be! So I´m standing in front of the mirror, my former twentysomething pressure-cooker looking right back at me. She´s telling me to take a deep breath and go pat myself on the back already. Well done, and good girl!
Picture above post: Beautiful, amazing Polina Seminova, photographer unknown.