Blog – Writing About Ballet … I Am Learning So Much
Writing about my career as a ballet dancer has taught me so much. It is a cathartic journey that allows pieces of the puzzle to come back together. We see the holes that left us wondering and questioning our sanity and our perception finally begins to come together and make sense.
I have been pleasantly surprised how many dancers have reached out to share their own stories with me and how similar many of our experiences were.
In the Berlin Ballet, two other dancers came forward and told me that the terrible way that the director, Gert Reinholm treated me was exactly the way they too were treated. I was relieved to know that I was not alone and that others had the same experience and that his behavior was clearly learned, ingrained, a habit, and he clearly enjoyed intimidating young dancers to make them doubt themselves and therefore keep them under his thumb.
We lived in a time and in a world where there were many directors, choreographers, and ballet teachers that loved ruling over their fiefdom. And those with their own ideas and mindset needed to be controlled through fear and intimidation. For the most part it did work. Often dancers were under pressure around weight, size, abilities, and the projections of what others wanted out of us. The internal and external pressures were astronomical and ballet dancers are incredibly private and keep things that are personal … close to the chest. Only now, as I am writing so much, does it seem that enough time has passed to allow those locked dungeon doors that each dancer has, to open and invite others in to share in the trials and tribulations that every dancer has gone through.
I am grateful to those that remember and can share the truth. I find some that were so gapped and protecting themselves that even now, they do not remember events as they unfolded. It is like the mind protects the delicate heart that so desperately needs to dance from the horrible truths and treatment of others. But dancers and choreographers also forget critical moments that really matter. Perhaps there is so much energy running that certain details cannot be held like moonbeams in our hands. Perhaps it is because the nature of dance is so ethereal and other worldly. Perhaps we are considering so many essential factors that we have to let certain memories go.
Connecting to the dancers now, I recognize that not only was I gapped from what was happening to others, but they were also gapped as to what was happening to me as well. I know that dancers are quite private and the older generation that were our instructors, teachers, directors, and choreographers were even better at than us.
I hear stories of dancers dying and how they struggle to admit and process their dying. They talk about daily life, the kids, the shallow issues that are comfortable. Many struggle to share what their deepest fears are with others.
I am grateful that I did so much inner work as I was retiring from ballet and that I did so much body work, personal growth workshops, meditation courses and yoga retreats.
I recognized that I was so very stuck inside. I was trapped by my own mental discipline and powerful control that ballet required. But reaching out of that and breaking free from all the personal restrictions that I placed upon myself and learning how to let go of having such unrealistic expectations on myself was a deeply personal battle that has taken me twenty plus years to unravel.
Perfectionism is ingrained in any professional ballet dancer. Mistakes are not tolerated. Our expectations on ourselves and those around us can be suffocating and can cause us to not know how to let others in because that would mean that they will see our insecurities, our wounding, and our failures. We are terrified to show others that we are so very human and that we (as dancers) are much more emotional than is socially acceptable. That is why we explode with all that pent up emotion on stages. That is where it is safe. That is where we get acknowledgement from an audience and others. That is where for brief moments we can become very real and actually feel as if who we are and what we are is okay.
Most dancers never feel as if they fit in. We are forever feeling life powerfully from the inside out. But only through ballet can we allow the truth of who we are out and from the protection of that stage, that is where we can finally let the outside … in.