The problem with pirouettes (a ballet parable)

Back when I was a bunhead, I developed a huge block when it came to pirouettes. They were the bane of my existence. I could do a single turn with very little trouble, but when it came to double turns, forget it.

I couldn’t get enough momentum for multiple turns while still keeping the correct form, and when I did make it around, I would be so startled that I would fall out of the turn.

(Here is an amazing turner. Which I was not)

My teacher, obviously, wanted me to be able to overcome my block. She was training me to be a professional ballerina, and multiple pirouettes are a basic requirement. She found my block intensely frustrating…

…and she let me know it.

“Single turns are unacceptable!” she would snap, “DO IT AGAIN.” I would try, and fail, and she would sigh in a way that made me feel about 2 inches tall. “No. Do it again,” she would growl, seeming to tower over me.

…It occurs to me in hindsight that she was actually several inches shorter than me by this point, but she seemed very, very tall.

But no matter how much she yelled, how many hundred times we did the exercises, how frustrated we both got, my turns, if anything, got worse.

When I went away to study at Walnut Hill, I was astounded. My teachers sensed my desire to improve, and they empathize with my frustration and self-criticism. They offered suggestions based on their experience, and if their initial suggestions didn’t help, they thought outside the box. For example, one teacher suggested that toning my core muscles and my arms would help my turns, and that made a huge difference.

Their approach slowly helped me realize that, while pirouettes were definitely a problem area for me, that was OK. Dancers have strengths and weaknesses. It didn’t mean I was hopeless, it just meant that I needed to work on that particular area even more. It was OK to fall, so long as I got back up and tried again.

The best teachers know that yelling and threats only make a challenge seem more scary. Instead of losing patience and screaming, they say something closer to “It’s OK. I see that you *insert problem here* Why don’t you try again and this time *insert possible solution*?” I’m not just talking about ballet here either.

I did manage to do consistent doubles (on the right side, at least) by the time I’d spent a year with the teachers at Walnut Hill. Their multiple viewpoints and corrections -coupled with the fact that not one of them ever lost patience or yelled at me- helped me to work through the block and make progress (although I admit that I dreaded pirouettes for the rest of my time in ballet class).

I’m telling this story for a reason, of course.

When you’re trying something new and you can’t quite get it, what approach do you take with yourself? Do you mentally tell yourself off, shaking your head at your own incompetence and your sub-par performance? Or do you dust yourself off, acknowledge your feelings of frustration, try to see the problem from another angle, and try again ?

So often I find I’m stuck in Option 1. The kinder option is always the better one. We just need to remember that it’s there.

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100% Me-Sized

It’s been a week since I wrote my letter to my body. One week since I declared total acceptance and love for my physical self.

You know how sometimes you write or decide something and it just…doesn’t take? It sort of floats away into the limbo of half-baked dreams and broken promises?

This is not one of those times.

I know this because instead of fizzling in the wake of photos and mirror-sightings, this body-love of mine is growing. And it’s taking on a life of its own.

I didn’t really understand it, but for a long time I’ve felt…small. I’ve talked about feeling tentative and apologetic, but honestly, it was coupled with a sense of being smaller than my physical body. Here’s my theory: for years, my mental image of myself has been pretty much the way I looked in university, which is about 60lbs lighter than I am now.

…sort of this size…although at this point in time I thought I was enormous…

Which meant that whenever I came face to face with a more-current image, I found my body startlingly big and spiraled down into body-hate.

It also meant that even when I danced and wiggled my toes and all that great stuff, I struggled to be fully embodied…because I wasn’t allowing my awareness to stretch out and fill the entire physical container. It was like -most of the time- only part of me was alive and conscious and able to feel things, and the rest of me was a like shameful add-on that I tried not to notice or inhabit.

Does that make sense?

But the other day I was out for a walk, and I realized what was going on. I could feel where my accepted-self ended and the empty part began (and yes, it felt really weird). As soon as I realized this, I consciously allowed my awareness to spread out and fill ALL of me. Not the size I thought I “should” be, but the size I AM. No judgement, no “Ack, my thighs are HUGE.” None of that. “Hey, I’m ME-sized,” I thought, and it felt good. “No matter how big or small I am, I am always me-sized,” I thought, and grinned.

After my walk, Matthew and I did a photo shoot for a super-exciting project I’m working on. I admit I had one initial moment of “OMGSOBIG” when I looked at the first images, but wonderful-Matthew reminded me of my mission and suddenly my new awareness kicked in…and everything was fine.

…MORE than fine. I looked at those photos in an entirely new way: they weren’t “good” or “bad,” they were just me. 100% me. And we went from there. I’ve never had so much fun with photos in my entire life, and it showed!

Here’s the thing: My thighs? They’re my thighs. Every inch of them is me. They’re not my “real” thighs encased in a layer of shameful non-me ickiness. My stomach? It’s my stomach. All of it. Mine. As-is. Hating the “flab” on the surface means hating part of myself. I’m SO done with that.

I’m done judging my photos by how skinny I look in them (I’m not a skinny person, and that’s really OK. I’ve been skinny, and it didn’t work for me).

…some people are naturally this size. But me? Not so much.

Instead of trying to look thin in photos (or in life in general) I’m going to go for looking 100% myself. Not less of myself. Not smaller than myself. Just me. Because that’s what I am. Me. 100%.

Do you know what this means?! I can stop worrying about my jiggles and the fact that I’m wearing a larger size than I did when I was 21.

I can stop making healthy choices because they’ll decrease the size of my “unacceptable” bits, and start making them because they make me feel awesome (I’d heard this was possible, but I rarely seemed to be able to DO it myself). I can move because my body wants to move instead of being motivated by a desire to burn calories (OK, I was working on this one anyway).

And -here’s a major change- I can choose to have pizza and ice cream and watch a movie on the sofa instead, if that’s what I need just then, and I can savour every bit of it without feeling guilty. My routines can be based in self-care, not “self-improvement.”

I could get a bright red dress and totally rock it right now, instead of promising myself I’ll do it when I’m smaller. And -I LOVE this one- I can look at a photo of myself at my current weight and think “Yeah, I look totally 100% myself in this photo” instead of wishing I’d held my stomach in more or wondering if my photoshop-savvy husband could fix my double-chin.

I mean, maybe this is all just me. Maybe no one else has struggled with this. But I highly doubt it. So here’s the truth:

I’m a size 18. I jiggle. I have cellulite. I have rolls and stretch marks. But you know what? I have a smile that lights up a room, a presence that is palpably awesome, and dammit, I’m gorgeous right now. Fat and all.

Take that, every woman’s magazine currently in circulation! “Get slim now”? How about “get joyfully embodied and love every inch of you as-is”? Which one sounds better to you?

I think we’re afraid that if we love our bodies as they are, we’ll do nothing but eat cake and chips and sit on the sofa all day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve done plenty of that stuff while hating myself for doing it and hating the body I’m doing it in. I can’t see how loving myself completely will make the situation worse…in fact, making friends with my body can only help things here.

I’ve made a permission slip:

You can take a copy if you want, because this permission doesn’t just apply to me. You have complete permission to be 100% YOU-sized too. Because when we live fully inside our bodies, we’re beautiful. And that’s true no matter what size jeans we wear or how jiggly our tummies are.

Time to do a 100%-me-sized Happy Dance! 😀

The Weekend That Changed My Life

Today’s post is inspired by a goddess oracle card mini-reading that I recently got from Nele of Baubo Dance Blog. One of the goddess cards she pulled for me was Tara. Remember that name, because it’s important.

I remember the weekend that everything changed.

I was in a Reiki Healing Dance workshop in Portland, Maine on the weekend of February 4 and 5, 2006. There were only 3 students, and of them, I was the only one with any kind of dance background.

Up until this point, I was a technical dancer to the core. A “failed” technical dancer, since I had stopped taking class, but still a member of what I viewed as an elite, or a slightly-superior species. I didn’t know there was anything beyond steps and techniques.

Not only was I a technical dancer, but I was an uber-judgemental technical dancer. There were two ways to be: good, or “the rinky-dink recital time” (as my old teacher called it).

(…so…much…judgement…so…much…anxiety)

I don’t blame myself for this…it was how I was trained, and it was motivated by an intense fear that I wasn’t measuring up. But what it meant was that I was ready for those other students to be ugly and uncoordinated and “bad dancers.” How could they be good if they hadn’t ever taken class? They were going to suck.

Only…they didn’t. The first day of the workshop consisted of ecstatic dance sessions coupled with Reiki and meditation, and it wasn’t long before I realized that everything I thought I knew was wrong.

It didn’t matter that their feet weren’t pointed or that they had never taken a dance lesson in their lives. The steps that they did weren’t important. They were grounded in themselves, centered in their bodies, and they moved with such fearlessness, such openheartedness that it cracked my heart wide open.

I, who had trained so long and so hard, who still had residual strength, flexibility, and technique even after years of only dancing sporadically, I was jealous of them. It was a struggle for me to cut through the external consciousness of “how do I look? am I doing this right?” and get inside the dance, while they made it look so easy.

That was the beginning. By the end of that first day, we weren’t “a trained dancer” and “non-dancers,” we were women. Just women with different life experiences and similar interests, forming deep bonds of caring in that one small studio. We circled, as women have done since the beginning of time, and it was magical.

On the second day, we sat in meditation for our Reiki Healing Dance attunement, and I fell into a dream-vision. As we sat in a row and our teacher worked around us, I envisioned a woman…a goddess…standing behind me.

She was beautiful and solemn as she looked down at me. Her naked body glowed with swirling colours. I wrote afterward that she “seemed to be made of light. Multicoloured light (like an oil slick) streamed out behind her like flames or waving banners or solidified smoke curls…just rushing out behind her as she stood behind me looking down at me. Her eyes had an expression of great love.”

“She told me that her name was Tara. And she told me not to doubt the path I was on, that I would soon be able to move beyond a set dance technique that others saw for me and develop my own dancing. For me, dancing was always an emotional experience not to be boxed in by forms or rules. To embody emotion, the body must be free.”

“Dance is a physical expression of a spiritual state,” I wrote later, “What I’ve thought of as dance is just steps that someone arbitrarily codified because they happened to like them. But Dance, real dance, is bigger and more ancient than that. We have always danced.”

As the attunement ended, Tara stepped forward and merged with my body. And I felt her streaming banners of light flowing out of my spine. I felt it for the rest of that day, as we finished our workshop and as I drove away with my husband and friends. When I’m truly centered in my body, I still feel it.

That’s when everything changed for me.

And I’m not going to lie and say that the road from that moment on was strewn with roses and empty of obstacles. I have journals full of writing that proves otherwise, as I struggled to undo all of the limiting beliefs my dance training left me with, and I still face those beliefs when I dance today (though not as much, thank goodness). But behind all of the struggles lies the memory of this experience.

It was the beginning.