I grew up in a simple family with parents who supported my education and encouraged me to be open-minded. However, they were busy making a living and did not have a chance to satisfy my need for sports and artistic activities. Years passed and, as a young adult, I almost fell into the trap of believing that ballet, a dance that I so much admired, was not for me because I had not begun in childhood. This article is about my journey from not even imagining ballet was an option to practicing regularly and discovering ways in which it contributes to my personal growth and development. Starting ballet in graduate school was a wonderful opportunity, and it offered me a completely new perspective on dance, sports, and artistic expression.
I used to say many times that I want my future children to grow up focusing on what they would like, to be happy with who they are, and not struggle with their ethnic identities as I did. For example, I imagined them taking ballet classes, playing sports, or making art. I told myself (and other people!) over and over until, one day, I finally got it: I wasn’t talking about my future, yet-to-be born children. After all, I don’t even know what their interests might be. Instead, I was talking about myself. It was the child inside me who wanted to do ballet. Imagine what it was like for me, the “adult,” to get in touch with this desire: it turned everything upside down! New ideas danced across my mind. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that ballet was what I wanted to do. I was still a little embarrassed about it. How could I link my current work and activities with ballet? Nonetheless, the thought of starting ballet lessons was here to stay.
The next two days were magic. My head was in the clouds; I realized that now I could do something that, in the past, was simply not an option. Opening a door I never knew existed, I was whirled into music, image, and dance, where colors and sounds are transformed into motion. It became simple. I would take ballet, and I was not even anxious about it; it was as natural as breathing or walking. I had yet to do my first plié, but ballet was already part of my world. It was only a matter of time before I began taking lessons.
Being the responsible parent I am, I resolved to take my kid to a performance in New York, immediately after I returned from Romania. In turn, the child inside of me dragged me, despite my jet-lag, to the ballet. Back at Vanderbilt, I went to a public lesson at the Nashville Ballet. I felt like an idiot. I did not know anything about ballet. I still do not know if the extra attention I got was because the instructors saw the budding ballerina in me, or if they pitied me I was simply needed the most help. My first impression was that I was completely ignorant on two points: I did not know my feet could move in so many ways, and I did not know the proper posture a ballerina should have.
In the end, I decided to enroll in Vanderbilt ballet classes. It was hard not to cry when I saw ballet on my schedule. I was smiling from ear to ear while looking at the ballet course listed near my name. Did I resist tears of joy? (Or were they from the tuition bill?)
It’s been a week since I started classes. So far, it’s been like the prologue to a romance: I’m in love, but there is so much to learn, just as if I were getting to know a boyfriend. I’m intrigued with this new love of mine and it’s beautiful, so beautiful. No matter that I have two left feet and get upset wondering how the others manage to stay on tiptoe for so long, and I forget to raise my hands when doing pirouettes, and instead of an elegant ballerina I am only a clumsy goose. But sometimes, every once in a while, I execute a movement perfectly, and it is sublime. I wish I could do it over and over…
Ballet does not mean only a few hours of dancing a week. Instead, it comes with a whole series of transformations and lifestyle changes. I made it a habit to get up early in the morning, and now the next (ballet!) step is to train for an hour before I start the day (in other words, before I open the laptop). Soon, I was paying more attention to my diet: fruit in the morning, healthier ways of cooking, and salad and vegetables not too late in the evening (I’d always been a “cheap date” because I don’t drink much; should I expect more dinner dates now that I hardly eat?).
Why ballet, and why now? I realized it is more than any desire to “fix” my childhood; I am rewriting my childhood by learning to rollerblade, bike, and swim. I don’t dance to perform, and if I ever do, it is only to be happy and not because I have high or exaggerated expectations. I don’t even know if I am talented, but I still want to train in a serious way. Ballet is rather about fulfilling a dream that I had placed vicariously on my children (I’m glad that’s not the case anymore!), needing to experience something new, and having the freedom to choose the sport that suits me best. And what a sport it is!
Despite deadlines and school activities; meetings and conferences; and research in education, economic development, and diversity, ballet has a secure place in my heart. It is gaining time and space, and it doesn’t seem a bit bothered by the piles of books on my desk. I do my own business and activities as a grown-up, but from time-to-time I cast a glance at my ballet shoes, strewn over my collection of Mozart CDs on the floor, eager to put them on again.