This French term for “I’m sorry” has been waylaid since Madonna’s popularization of “je suis desolee”. But I think this sums up my feelings perfectly at the moment. All the Black Swan press has contributed to, and brought to the forefront, a feeling I have had for a while now. I’m only 22, and I’ve been lucky enough in life not to have any major regrets thus far, but I can honestly say I have one biggie.
I dreadfully regret quitting ballet. Watching movies like Black Swan and Center Stage zero in on the unique world of ballet dancers and their universe has stirred up old feelings that have been quietly telling me for years that I never should have stopped dancing ballet.
I was five when I started. My sister and I started together in the youngest classes, but she was soon released from the tutus and tights by sheer lung volume used to vocalize her displeasure. I remained, however, and studied at a local ballet studio for the next six years, before moving on to a more prestigious “academy” of sorts- a school for the performing arts. I also took piano lessons here, but I really looked forward my ballet sessions. The leotards fit me, I liked the legwarmers, and my hair looked really cute in chignons (I NEVER had a ponytail or messy bun). But I really like what my body was learning to do. I could lift my leg higher each time, stretch a little straighter, spin a little faster, plie a little deeper. I loved the sensation so much that I actually wore ballet slipper to school in the winter under my snow boots. I was actually good at something.
This “natural” ability was somewhat rare in my non-academic life. My world was dominated by after-school activities, from piano lesions at the house from the age of six, to forced, embarrassing participation in softball, volleyball, and then soccer, to a brief flirtation with gymnastics. The only thing that really meant anything to me, though, was ballet. There, I didn’t feel awkward or different. In soccer, I was painfully aware that my knees were wider than my legs, and that my ears stuck out profusely from my head when I put a headband on. My only strong point rested in my long legs- which I demonstrated by sprinting right off the field toward my mom and sister on the playground during games.
But in ballet class, I was proud that I could stretch my neck and press my shoulders down to execute a beautiful spinal posture, and that I could float my fingers gracefully from a rond-de-jambe without thinking too much about it. My weird body type seemed to be working for me, as opposed to against me, like I had become accustomed to. I even loved the elegant French language of ballet.
Below the ankles, however, life became a bit trickier. I had never been allowed to desist partaking in outdoor soccer in elementary school, but with seventh grade came a transition to Ursuline Academy, thirty minutes away, with a school end time that would make arriving to ballet class on time a challenge. I tried out for the soccer team, only to be cut the very first day. I was upset, of course, but looking back, this was really a blessing (and perhaps the sports gods telling me to quit trying to barge in)- I was free to keep pursuing ballet without distraction. I even wore white tights under my uniform on Wednesdays, so my mom could chaffeur me to ballet right away, without requiring too much of a wardrobe change. I increased ballet practice steadily, upgrading from two to three classes a week.
But eighth grade, I made the Junior High soccer team. I resolved to keep doing both- but at this point, I was being prepared to go en pointe. The physical toll of working toe and foot muscles previously never discovered at ballet class for hours a week, preparing these delicate muscles to sustain my entire body weight, and then shoving my tender, sore feet into tight soccer cleats and kicking a ball for an hour every day proved too much. The time had come to make a decision. The social aspect of soccer, coupled with puberty attacking my lean body and sprouting apples on my chest under my leotard, made me lean more toward running suicides in the rain and long bus rides with the team. This wasn’t to last past the fall sports season, of course, and came to an abrupt and excruciatingly painful halt in my Junior year of high school, when I was cut from the varsity team and left to captain the JV team. Senior year consisted of a substantial display of bench-warming, that had nothing but a negative impact on any physical or social aspect of my life.
A few years ago, I discovered Pilates and immediately was re-introduced to my “ballet” muscles I had forgotten about. I felt my body working for me again, albeit in a different sense thanks to the ample female endowments I had grown since leaving the ballet world. I felt useful again, and that I was actually accomplishing something more than running around aimlessly on a cold, damp soccer field waiting for game action that would never come.
I’ve been lucky enough to pursue any dream I can envision, and I have no one to blame but myself. If I could do one thing over in my life, however, it would be the choice to quit ballet. I wonder what my life would be like now- would it even be any different? I’m sure I would be thinner, leaner, more flexible. Maybe I’d still involved with dance or yoga, but maybe not. If nothing else, I would be able to watch ballet movies without that twinge in my stomach. Je regrette, mais c’est la vie.