Over the past couple of months, I've been exploring the word transition, prompted by some very big ones that have been occurring in my own life. Perhaps the most obvious shift is that I've moved overseas again, this time back to Canada, and have decided to start studying. With the varying repercussions following suit, I've felt this dramatic change in the most apparent ways. However, until finally writing this post (that's been sitting as a draft for a very long time), I've been glossing over an even greater transition that's happened in my life, likely as a coping mechanism. But now I feel it's something I need to address:
It's been about two and a half months now since my last performance as a professional ballet dancer. I've done one ballet class, a few solo barres, and a handful of pirouettes in my kitchen. Since retiring, I've noticed some small changes. I can let my toenails get long without being affected by bruises and ingrowns and all that pointe shoe glamour (sorry - ew, so gross). I can also paint them (that's better). My hair is getting healthier since avoiding the likes of hairpins, hairspray and over-combing into a slicked bun. And slowly but surely, chronic aches and pains are starting to fade away.
I remember while I was still dancing, I'd often come across people who had transitioned out of the sport. They'd speak about how much they missed it and they would very frequently go to the ballet, watch videos, take a class, or even teach to fulfil that longing. I remember thinking that reaction wouldn't happen to me, confident that I wouldn't relapse.
Throughout my seventeen years in the ballet realm, I never had that strong an emotional, passionate attachment to it the way some of my peers did. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me and I even tried to fake it. I'd force myself to sit and watch full length ballets because teachers told us to and I'd be around friends who ooh'd and aah'd over the Royal Ballet's Giselle. To be fair, I have a short attention span, so videos of any kind rarely appeal to me, so, with that in mind, sitting through a 3 act ballet on a digital screen was tedious for me.
Eventually, I realized that there wasn't anything wrong with me.
It didn't mean that I loved it any less - in fact, I must have loved it enough because ballet is freaking hard!!! It's not all the glitter some people expect it to be. You need to be able to tolerate a lot of physical and mental abuse. I stuck with it for a pretty long time, considering my humble beginnings as a five year old tomboy being put into her first pair of ballet shoes with little interest. Looking back now, I think what drove me into the career of ballet wasn't necessarily an indebted passion for it, but more my individual character. I like to work hard and I'm a bit of a perfectionist, which lines up well with what ballet demands. I'm driven, an overachiever, keen to impress, and to some degree, stubborn. As a little girl, I never romanticized becoming a prima ballerina or wearing the costume for my dream role, but I did have my goal and a pragmatic state of mind to achieve it.
That being said, the passion did eventually come. And with my time away from it right now, I'm starting to see that. Apparently absence does makes the heart grow fonder...
Stopping ballet didn't come as a shock. But the longing to dance again is beginning to trickle into the background of my life. The daily routine of sweating can be replaced by going to the gym or for a nice jog, but dance as an exercise is actually fun. I can't say the same about a treadmill. Certainly, I miss the athleticism of ballet. The work ethic and seeing results. I miss the rigour of the routine and the feeling of coming home exhausted, yet, satisfied with what I've done. This part of it, arguably the hard and ugly side of ballet, I knew I would miss, because this was the contributing factor that kept me going as long as I did.
But now, being away from ballet is now making me value it a little more from the external perspective. People, as audience members, see ballet as elegant, impressive, artistic, expressive. And now, I'm finally turning to watching ballet videos (what?!) and am in awe of the artwork behind some of these professionals. Ballet has a tremendous amount of power to move people, if the dancer themselves can provoke them. And that's the power of art and the artist. Now that I'm an ex-dancer, by occupation, I need to rediscover what makes me an artist.
I don't really think I'll ever be an ex-dancer though. Dancing is part of my identity and history. Years of ballet have distorted my skeleton, so it's literally in my body. Nobody can take away my seventeen years in ballet. Not myself. Not the ignorant schmuck who asks me if ballet is actually a real profession. I will never stop being proud of myself for working towards that one goal that I did, in the end, achieve.
Ultimately, although I'm finding I miss it, I know I've made the right choice in stopping. To elaborate how this pivoting choicecame about, it's been a few years in the making...
The first time I was close to quitting was at the end of my school training. I was discouraged and hopeless in the audition and job-seeking endeavour and ready to throw in the towel. Then, as if it were written in the stars, my job from Tivoli fell into my lap and i spent three blissful years there. But I get restless once I stay in the same place for too long and I felt at the end of my second year that a third year would be my limit. Whether this meant changing ballet companies or changing professions, I was unsure of at the time. I just knew I needed some form of change.
It was also around this time that I had the random urge to start a hobby. It was near the end of the season and the workload was little and I picked up embroidering (briefly...). I felt like I needed to do something else because ballet had started to consume my whole life. I was at work virtually every day, morning to night, sometimes when I didn't even have to be. My entire network of friends was ballet. Ironically, despite never fitting the stereotype of a little girl dreaming to become a ballerina, I had somehow turned into a Class A Bunhead. Don't get me wrong - It's not a bad thing to be a bunhead. But my inner anxieties indicated that it wasn't for me.
Then, winter of last year, I rediscovered an old skill that had been collecting dust in my archive - writing. My enthusiasm for writing worked in parallel to my ballet training, until the years came when I had to invest in getting the job and maintaining it. When comfortable enough, I created Fijord and started writing again. I realized how much I missed it, this alternative creative outlet, outside of dance. A place for me to explore my growing number of interests, nurture them, and discover.
Fijord became something I continued, each week, each Monday, sometimes more. Now it's been a year (happy birthday Fijord!). It's taught me a lot about myself. Perhaps it's strayed me away from ballet a little, but not entirely. It's only opened the door to a world that was otherwise closed.
The reason I know that I've made the right choice changing professions is because I'm too curious. I learned, that for the same reason I can't sit through a single video without getting distracted, I can't stick with just one thing. I've followed a single expertise my whole life, but truthfully, I think I'm meant for more. I'm so stimulated, by so many things, and being in school now is helping me realize that.
I'm still getting my feet back on the ground, and this time, not in pointe shoes. But I'm trying to be patient with myself. I've been living in what ballet dancers call the "ballet bubble", so right now, I'm basically a new baby experiencing the rest of the world for the first time. I'm not so sure where I'm headed, but stick with me. I can promise you it won't be boring. No, I'd never let that happen.