I recently watched a documentary called Ballerina that looked at the lives of some prima ballerinas in Russia. They start quite young, at the age of 10, and the teachers were looking for girls with small heads, long necks, and who would develop a good figure. But as they also said, it’s hard to tell with a 10-year-old what figures they’ll grow into.
That caught my attention because I couldn’t help thinking that when I was 10, it was fairly obvious that I wouldn’t have that type of figure. Pre-adolescence, I wasn’t terribly overweight, but I was chubby, carrying a layer of extra padding that had been cute when I was younger but was less so as I grew older. Luckily, the ballet I did at the time was for fun, not for any desire of eventually becoming a ballerina myself, and my weight wasn’t a problem. At least, I didn’t think I was until my chiropractor at the time told my mom and I that we should keep an eye on my weight. It’s my first memory of that coming up, and as I wrote in my book: “I don’t recall the doctor's exact words, but I remember they made me feel ashamed of my body for the first time. I suspect they also set off warning bells for Mom, whose greatest fear was diabetes after having seen both of her grandmothers die from diabetes-related complications.”
My dance career didn’t last much after that. By the time I was 12, I weighed around 150 pounds, and exercise in general was no longer as easy, or something I enjoyed. Even had that not been the case, I doubt that I would have wanted to put myself through the pain and grueling effort involved in becoming professional. I had no desire to have my feet bleed, or spend all my time in practice, knowing that I was causing stress to my body that would lead me to a short-lived career at best.
Even so, I feel a twinge of sorrowful envy watching dancers. Seeing their beautiful, supple bodies, I am all too aware of the limitations of my own. I acknowledged some time ago that I’m not and never will be naturally athletic. That took a while for me to understand, having once believed that if I just worked hard enough, I could achieve anything I wanted. Even having accepted that, though, when I see dancers now, I’m all too aware of my lack. And it’s very specific to them – I don’t feel this watching other athletes.
An example of this was when watching the video The Old Religion when I was in high school. As I wrote in my book: “One part of the film showed a dancer – not a ballerina, but a woman performing more of a liturgical or sacred dance. Her motions were very slow, controlled, lithe, and graceful, arms weaving in deliberately sinuous and sometimes sensual motions. Seeing that struck me to the heart, reminding me that dance was one of the things I’d lost when I gained weight. I felt, at least briefly, that I would be willing to do almost anything if only I could one day move like that woman.”
Still, I remind myself that while I will never have bodies or abilities like those ballerinas, it doesn’t mean that I can’t move gracefully, or that my body is somehow deficient. How many of us, after all, would ever achieve that level? I content myself with being earth-bound, knowing that so long as I can walk and hike and climb, perhaps do more modest dance, and take joy in those activities, that is all I need – even if I wish sometimes that it could be otherwise.