As a teenage girl, I was a troublemaker. I was the kind of girl who was regularly sent home for wearing black lace slips to school and ditching math class. In fact, I loved to break the rules so much that I spent 11 consecutive weekends (a record at the time) in Saturday school my sophomore year for talking back to the vice principal. In spite of my insatiable desire to break every rule presented to me as a teenage girl, however, I fell in love with one of the world’s most rigid disciplines: I was totally and completely infatuated with ballet.
Though the holes in my tights and hickeys on my neck preserved my reputation as my dance studio’s resident “bad girl,” from the moment I placed my hand on the barre, I would transform. In ballet class, I was silent, focused and so desperate to please my ballet teacher that I would actually force a smile whenever she smacked me with her cane for a bent leg or sickled ankle. I didn’t have to be the rebellious, hypersexual teenager when I came to ballet. Through dance, I could leave my head and just exist in my body. Ballet provided me with a sense of freedom, a way to escape myself in pursuit of an unattainable balletic perfection.
Like all girlhood obsessions, however, my passion for ballet eventually dried up and withered away like the wings of my circa 1997 butterfly hairclips. In fact, by the time I reached my early twenties, all that really remained of my teenage love affair was my annual viewing of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version of the Nutcracker on YouTube (because, let’s face it, before Magic Mike came out this summer, I was pretty low on options for fueling my need for watching rock-hard man-ass outside of gay porn).
So, when my co-worker Katy asked if I would be interested in taking an adult ballet class, I was overwhelmed with excitement—and a little nervous. After a 10-minute nagging session, our fellow officemate Anna was also on board. Before I knew it, Team Ballerina Princess was born, and the three of us were off, Wednesday night after work, to take the adult beginner ballet class at the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
We arrived that Wednesday night inappropriately dressed in messy ponytails and leggings, nervously watching the 9-year-old girls exit the studio with their perfect posture and perfect leotards. My apprehension evaporated, however, once I took my first plié. Coming back to the barre was a homecoming. I was shocked at my body’s ability to remember positions I hadn’t attempted in 10 years. And I couldn’t stop smiling when Gisela, the school’s director, complimented me on my turnout. By the end of the class, I was feeling so good about myself that I floated all the way home. And, unlike Natalie Portman, I didn’t need swan wings to assist me with my gleeful flight.
When I came to work the next morning, it was clear my fellow teammates were also experiencing the same dance-induced high, considering the fact that they were already online shopping for pink slippers. I kept rushing off to the office bathroom to practice my arabesque in front of the mirror, awkwardly pretending to wash my hands the moment someone emerged from a neighboring stall. I was in love with ballet again and, despite my sore muscles, I couldn’t wait for the next class.
Thanks to Anna’s and Katy’s overzealous online shopping, we showed up the next week in full ballet gear (and let me tell you, it is one thing to be a 10-year-old girl in pink tights; it is far less adorable, however, to watch your cellulite jiggle through the spandex as an adult). Though we were doing our best to look the part, this week Gisela was much less complimentary. I’m not sure if it was the German accent that triggered it, but after the second time Gisela shouted “Ze arm must be in line vith ze vaist!” I started having post-traumatic flashbacks of being smacked with a cane. To make matters worse, two gorgeous, professional male dancers from New York decided to take class with us. Their presence forced Gisela to step up the difficulty level, and I was harshly reminded not only of what I could no longer do as an adult, but also of everything I’d never had the talent to achieve in the first place.
While my ballet princess dreams were crushed ever so slightly after that second class, I am still eager to return. As a teenager, I only partially understood the value that ballet could bring into my life. Back then, it was all about escaping myself. Now, I view ballet as a chance not to escape, but as a challenge for self-acceptance—cellulite, small boobs and all. And if I get to wear a tiara or butterfly clips in the process, so be it.
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