July 12, 2012

Before & After

I should have tossed these old work-uniform pants out long ago, but I like to keep them as a reminder. This is what happened to me when I quit dancing nine years ago. It wasn't a conscious decision, but at the time I was going through some rough personal stuff. Dancing was simply the last thing on my mind. I never decided not to dance, I just didn't go back to class. The weeks rolled by, then months, then years. I turned into a couch potato, potato chips and chocolates in one hand, remote in the other. The extra kilos kinda crept onto me, I never saw it coming until it was all there.

New friends who didn't know me from my dancing days, never considered me fat - just voluptuous or "well-rounded". And after I was done grieving (the personal stuff I mentioned earlier), and had my life and groove back again, I honestly didn't care about the surplus of pounds. Not until hot summers and chafing thighs (sorry if that's TMI ). Not until I was actually told by a health-care professional that I had become officially over-weight. Not until I yearned to dance again. 

At that point, I felt embarrassed. I wanted to dance but I didn't want to go back to with all my added weight. I hated the idea of anyone from "before" seeing me. Now I wish someone had just kicked my butt back into class right there and then! I wasted another year not dancing. But everything changed six years ago, when I convinced a friend of mine to take ballet in addition to her modern classes. I took her to my old school, and we watched a ballet barre through the glass door. It hit me right there and then. I should be in that class! I had managed to loose a few kilos, but that wasn't why I was ready to go back. I just needed to be in that ballet class so badly, it hurt. It was a happy hurt, if you know what I mean. 

The first classes were hard on the body, but not so much on the mind. I was a bit shocked to see my former slim dancer's body enlarged in the huge mirrors, but got over it when I focused on the steps instead. Nobody in that class knew me from before, and that helped my vanity/insecurity a little. My teacher made no comments other than that she was happy to have me back. I relaxed, as much as you can relax when muscles are being pushed back into familiar moves. I started with one weekly 60 minute class, then added another, then more. The weeks rolled by, then moths, then years. Those baggy pants from the photo came loose during the first year and were replaced with one size smaller. The next year it was a smaller size still. Clothes I had kept from "before" started to fit me again. 

I never diet, but I try to stay away from too many sweets, cakes and other vices. I like to eat, and I like my treats but I like to feel healthy too. On the days I dance (which is most days), I think about carbs and proteins, energy and recovery. I might have oatmeal and a banana in the morning, a fruit smoothie later, pasta before class, a nutty energy bar, and salad with protein after. Even the occasional beer. Chocolates too. On the few days I don't dance, I just eat whatever I feel like. 

My one regret is that I didn't go back earlier. The extra pounds I was carrying had nothing to do with how well I could dance, how others would view me (why even care?) or how much I would love it. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased and proud to be slim and fit again - but all that has just been an added bonus. You can look at my photo and see the "before" and the "after", but I didn't return to ballet to lose weight. I returned because I had to. The excitement of learning new steps, the joy of moving to the music, the sweat and happy exertion that is ballet class. I needed to feel the sheer bliss of dance again. There is no more "before",  only now - and let us all dance happily ever after.


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I'm still recovering from a long severe eating disorder and don't really feel at home in my new body. I had to take a year off dancing to get healthy again which made me feel really insecure when it was time to go back. When I was physically well enough to take class again it still took me a couple of months to get the courage. I was worried about seeing my old dance friends (kind of not a problem as I had lost all my muscles and had to take a lower level class...), my teachers and most of all myself. There are days that are hard, days when I sit at home before class and look at myself in the mirror and think that I cannot go because of how I look. Also days when being inside the studio is hard and I can't stop staring at myself and comparing my body to the next dancer's perfect slender figure. And then I remember why I dance: because it is the one thing I love more than anything in the world. I always try to remember I dance for myself, I dance so my body and soul stay connected, I dance because I have to!

    I will print this post and put it in my dance bag so whenever I get discouraged I can take a look at it and remember what ballet is all about. :)

    1. Thank you for your comment! I'm really happy if this post can help you in any way. I know it can be very hard to get rid of (mis-)conceptions about ourselves. We may see our bodies in ways that others don't - and usually it is us who are the unkind critics.

      I have been there, compared myself to the next dancer and then looked at my own body with dismay. But we don't dance with looks. To dance we need strength, agility, coordination, intellect, musicality, determination, drive, passion, love.

      Think what you are capable of doing with your body. You can dance. Your body needs your love as much as you need to dance.

  2. This was a very inspirational post for me, too. As a kid/teen when dancing many times a week, I Never thought of my looks. It all started when I went to study after high school, also started to gain weight. 2 years ago when starting again with ballet I really felt like a giant. Tallest and biggest in class. But I've learnt that I don't have to care so much about it, our teacher doesn't care about it. The other dancers (probably) don't care about it. Dancing is wonderful and that's it! :)

    1. That's right! You can only dance with your own body. So what if you're the tallest dancer in class, or are not as slim as you used to be. Focus on the music, and the quality of movement. Enjoy the experience!

  3. I recognize the "I should be in that class" hurt so well! And the amazing slimming effect of ballet too :)

    I re-started ballet classes after two babies, and in months my body started to change. It was not so much of weight loss, but improved posture and muscle control. I do remember one saturday morning class when I suddenly realized that I had distinct waistline again!

    But what is even more important and more enjoyable, is just like you said, all the wonderful things I am now capable to do with my body! However, now as my classes are on a summer break, I am noticing an urge to turn to a couch potato... Must find some alternative ways to take care of myself, so that I am in good shape and ready for classes in August when semester finally rolls in ;)

  4. Wow...what a wonderful story. I'm glad you went to that ballet class and listened to your gut feeling telling you you needed to be back in class :) I also understand the upheaval that a rough patch can create in your life, throwing everything out of balance and leaving you feeling like nothing will ever be the same. I like to hear stories about people who came out the other side wiser and stronger, and it certainly sounds like you did!

    And yes to ballet as a great way to get in shape. I was doing a closet purge earlier this summer and noticed that the "too big" discard pile was all from my pre-ballet days :)

    1. Kaija, I have missed your comments! :)

      Yes, one should always pay attention to their gut. Especially when it's expanding while craving to get back in class.. ;) I'm so so happy I returned to dance, I really don't want to imagine my life without it! Ballet also helps whenever there is a rough patch, because it makes you take care of yourself!

      The gorgeous ballet-body is a very nice bonus, glad you are experiencing the same effects! :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...