Retiring, Retreating, and the Excuses

Retiring, Retreating, and the Excuses

Some dancers exit with celebrations and appreciation.

Some dancers are celebrated in death with gatherings of remembrance. Especially when that death seems tragic and shocking.

And some dancers attempt to gracefully exit (stage left), hopefully leaving a memory behind in the ethers. Perhaps a memory from their name inside a costume that a younger dancer wonders about. Perhaps one of the many dancers in motion on a video so that other dancers learn from … at some future moment.

I was mostly the latter. I tried to exit with grace and respect. I tried not to make a scene. But ballet companies live on a stage, and so sometimes … even exits have a story to tell.

While I had managed to jump through the hoops of the Rules of the State of Utah, the Massage Board for the State, the obligations of the Utah College of Massage Therapy, and figure out how to leave the only reality I had known behind by retiring from ballet.

There are always those unexpected moments that astound and surprise us.

While I know there are many more shocking stories from other dancers’ exits. I can only tell my own because dancers are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to their own upsets and trauma.

Dancers learn early on to deal with their own battles. We know that other dancers are not our enemies. Every dancer is always doing the best they can in each moment, and when we are all dancing together … while there are jealousies, viciousness is not really the way we roll with each other.

Directors in my era were quite another thing.

That year at Ballet West, many dancers left. There seemed to be a steady stream of dancers exiting because of the enormous tensions and expectations that were loaded upon the dancers.

Dancers dance because we have to.

Dancers dance for the feeling that we experience in our bodies through rehearsals and performances.

Especially performing is something that just cannot be replaced for dancers on any level.

One cannot replicate the enormous talent and expertise that goes into a ballet performance. We are surrounded by beautiful costumes, lighting, stage design, music, and other dancers. We are all striving for excellence.

Out in the “real” world, most are just surviving rather than aiming for thriving.

“Good enough” is the baseline for most in the non-artistic world.

Please know that I include in the artistic world … those with any form of brilliance, genius, and curious expertise that drives them to make this world a better place.

After living and breathing art in many forms and facets … I knew that life outside a stage was going to be very different.

I thought I was prepared for it. I had created another career where I could support the health and well-being of others.

I created being a massage therapist so that I could touch others on a daily basis.

I discovered that in massage, I could move my hands and body to the beautiful, magical New Age music that I was playing during a session and that I could dance my hands on the bodies of others and support healing, transformation, and expansion in other ways.

I finished the season, and I am preparing to make the planned leap. I had a boyfriend that seemed to have potential, being a doctor and a trust fund baby. He had a practice in town over off of 11th East in Salt Lake City. He gave me one of his offices so that I could do massage out of his office as he was a Holistic MD, and my massage business and personal flow seemed to support what he was doing.

That, in turn, would give me credibility as Utah tended to still see massage therapy as some sort of sex worker.

I did not want to have to deal with men looking for some sort of “Happy Ending!”

Being in a medical office would help clear out those who perhaps were looking for an escort or something else!

I was ready and willing to take the leap, and everything did seem to be falling into place, just like the angels said.

That was when the phone calls started from the Ballet Guild and the large benefactors for Ballet West.

All the phone calls were intended to be so kind. They all started by them saying how much they loved watching me dance over the years and how much I had contributed to the ballet. They talked about their favorite roles that I played and how much they were going to miss my presence and passion on stage.

Then they went into this long, excited congratulations!

That seemed odd!

Congratulations? For what?

That is when it came out almost the same way … verbatim, from each person.

They all said some version of the following.

“I hear Congratulations are in order!”

My response was, “Excuse me?”

“Yes, Congratulations! You are pregnant and getting married! That is so exciting! That makes sense as to why you are retiring from Ballet West! We will miss you so much. But I hope that after the baby is born, you will bring the baby by for all of us to see!”

My next response.

“I’m sorry! I am not retiring because I am pregnant. Nor am I getting married!”

A shocked silence comes across the phone! “What? Well … that is what Mr. Hart said!”

Over and over, each person told me that they were stunned that I was retiring and that so many great dancers were leaving. When they asked Mr. Hart about that … his explanation was that with me, I had become pregnant and was engaged to marry this Doctor in town. That was why I was leaving.

I was furious, insulted, and angry!

I had kept quiet throughout my career … my many challenges about cysts on my ovaries. The doctors did not know what they know now, and they had put me on birth control pills when I was young to shrink them. They did not know (back in that day) that I was very estrogen dominant.

Putting me on birth control, they had completely screwed up my system. They had actually made me even more estrogen dominant, and at one point, I had gained 20 lbs in a month.

The hormones made me feel like I was going crazy, and I was constantly bleeding. After a month, I was anemic and crying most of the time.

My sister, a doctor, told me to stop the birth control pills, and within a week, I was feeling better and losing weight.

I vowed never to take those pills again. And I did not!

After doing an extensive reading of medical texts and working with Dr. Minhua Zhang, she determined that I should never take birth control because I actually did not need it.

She explained that my constitution in the Chinese Medicine format was that of someone infertile and that probably could not have children.

Which ended up being the truth. My hormones were so off that there was no hope in hell that I could get pregnant.

Learning all that explained a lot of my intensity and my desire to experience tools for self-discipline that I worked so hard to maintain.

And my ballet teachers in Dallas used to say, “No Excuses!”

So, I never offered up any. I kept most of my personal issues my own and private. No one in the ballet really knew what I had going on in my head … or body.

Then when I got the Epstein-Barr virus and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (when no one knew what it was or what was wrong with me), I turned to meditation, chanting, bodywork, acupuncture, reading psychology and philosophy books, and personal growth workshops to cope.

All those things probably saved my life. That is why I wanted to go into the healing arts. I knew what a difference they had made in my life, and I felt that I could find satisfaction in working to heal others.

But this last betrayal with Mr. Hart was very upsetting and extremely aggravating. He was spreading lies about me to validate why so many unhappy dancers were leaving.

He painted me completely opposite of who I was.

In ballet, there are those that love to play around in the sexual arena and others whose passion is ballet, and those people are wed to ballet above all other things.

I was, again, the latter.

These projections on me were not unfamiliar.

When I was a dancer in Berlin, I was a virgin and was constantly teased for it relentlessly.

Honestly, I had no time or energy to date or play in that sexual arena.

Peter was my first boyfriend at 21, and I clearly know that while I was spiritually very mature, intellectually very strong, and smart as a whip … emotionally, I was not mature in the sexual area at all.

My experience with Peter was that the emotions of others and the levels of attachment and expectation in relationships were more than I had inside to offer. I did not know how to love my art and ballet while being in love with another person. It just seemed way too much more me at that time.

In Ballet West, I often roomed with the guys or the gay guys rather than other women. From that, I gained a “bad girl” reputation from some of the women and the Mormon crowd.

At the time, I thought it funny.

Being around the gay men was way safer than being around dancers who would not eat or those that were in competition with me for one reason or another.

Besides, the gay men were funny, easy going, and they would eat!

Now, here at the end of this amazing career in ballet, once again, I have to deal with the projections from others on me and their need to make me into someone that I was not.

Seemed like some sort of interesting full circle.

So with the Ballet Guild and those benefactors that had done so much for the ballet, I calmly explained that what Mr. Hart said was untrue, but I did stop from slandering the Director.

I simply said that there were many signs that I was complete with this book of my life. I said that I loved ballet more than anything but that it was a young person’s art and that I am a tall dancer that was limited in the types of roles that I could play and dance. And I could see that while I loved ballet … that one needs to learn to gracefully exit. I told them about watching Nureyev and how his ego could not stop, and how he needed the applause. I told them that I wanted to quit at the top and not be pushed out because of a body that could not keep up any longer. And I told them that many dancers retire because of catastrophic injuries, that are devastating. I wanted to do other things in my life. I did not want ballet to destroy my body … because then, I could not do the other physical activities that were out there waiting for me.

They were all very kind and seemed to understand. Some (I think) thought I was lying.

I have never regretted leaving Ballet West at that poignant moment in my life.

It was a glorious time in my life, and nothing since has replaced it. Nor could it.

The dreams of my little girl came to life.

How many get to say that?

She danced in the limelight and burned brightly for a time. She witnessed some of the greatest dancers of her generation. She got to connect with great artists in ways that pointed her and me in the direction of so many things that really matter.

I know I have been blessed in ways that are difficult to explain. I know that too often in life, we walk away and try to leave things of great value behind because remembering them is so painful.

I wanted to never forget. I wanted to never put my ballerina in a box and hide her in the warehouses of my past. I wanted and needed her by my side.

I wanted her passion, freedom, and wisdom of how to make magic in each and every moment.

I wanted her intelligence and intuition that knew what it takes to be prepared and practiced. I wanted her excitement to help me find new meaning in that world … out there.

And she has done all that and more.

We are connected in ways that most do not know are possible.

Together we seek to mold magic into being.

Together we dance in the sunlight and giggle in the grass.

We listen to the conversations in nature and hear the longing of humanity.

I believe that inside every person is a child that still dreams. I believe that we are here to make dreams live and breathe.

I believe that all things are possible when we allow our innocent child and our protective adult to work in harmony with each other.

I believe that we are here to allow our higher self to filter into this density to help our human self.

I believe we are here to bring as much of our spiritual essence into this human body as possible.

I believe such a thing takes a lot of practice, time, blood, sweat, tears, and effort.

That is what ballet taught me.

Terpsichore taught me that what we are willing to sacrifice for passion and art … can and will be rewarded. That reward may not be in the form of fame, glory, or money.

After all, ballet is a “living art” It exists briefly on a stage and then only exists in the ethers and in the hearts and minds of those it touched in that moment.

The true gift of Terpsichore is that her gifts, in this density, can and will follow us beyond this time, beyond this body, and beyond death itself.

That is because her gifts are formed in one of the few pure expressions of love.

The gifts of love that ballet and dance offered to me were some of the greatest that I had ever been offered.

They are the elixir of this life that has carried me through moments that seemed impossible to survive. The ballet was the banquet of desires (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) that were more fulfilling than food.

Terpsichore’s gifts were the passions of many lives that sustained me through all the pain and suffering.

The ballet was the hope that healed my tormented heart.

I own up to the fact that many lives have been dedicated to this “Muse of Movement”.

Where she leads even now … I follow.

Her gifts will give my spirit wings to fly out of this body and through the astral plane into the light.

She showed me how to take moments here and make them into heaven. She showed me that I could bring heaven to earth. She showed me that human emotions and their expressions through art … educate, inspire, and illuminate the continuation of this dream called life.

Now, it is up to you to cut your own path with your emotions, your dreams, your desires, and your spirit in this earthly realm.

Know that if my words or any expression of my art touched you … even on the other side, I will come when you call.

Because if I can feel your heart seeking expressions of what I know, and if you need tools that I have achieved in my many earthly walks, I will be there to help … in any way that you will allow me.

Let your life become the dance of your soul at this moment. Fly free with the wildness of your spirit. Dance to the rhythm that beats your heart open.

Call to the energy that you need so you can begin.

That energy has always been there … waiting.

We are all … waiting with bated breath to see what you could create … as you become …  whole.

~Suzanne Wagner~


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