I Am Strong

February 8, 2010
Sweat did not accumulate in light droplets on our foreheads; it gathered in great pools, drenching our leotards. Although we never noticed it ourselves, everyone outside the studio could see that the air was dense with moisture and heat. All of our attention was concentrated towards our bodies: shoulders down, stomachs in, hips tucked under—the list never ended, and neither did the combinations of steps.

Debra, our ballet teacher, was the officer. She patrolled a line of dancers focused on a complex piqué routine, examining every inch of our bodies. When she came close to where I was standing, I held my breath and prayed with all my might that she would continue walking. Nobody ever wanted to be the one called on by the teacher, corrected in front of the entire class. And so we danced as if our lives depended upon it.

Through many hardships, the strenuous life of a ballerina molded me into the mature young adult I am today. I learned the value of self-esteem as I watched a fellow dancer suffer from anorexia. I learned the meaning of respect as another dancer gave everything she had to a boy. I felt the love and trust of a family as our performing company grew closer, depending on each other for survival. However, the most distinguishing imprint pressed into my clay character was not made by sufferings, but by strengths. A physically demanding and mentally rigorous sport, ballet forced me to push when I could not push anymore, reach when I could not reach anymore, and hold on when every inch of my body screamed to let go.

Any stranger can look at me and see that I have not been blessed with the thin, tall stature of a ballerina. Standing at a mere five feet with splits that could only bend 190? and not the standard 200?, dancing was always a challenge for me. My only comfort came from knowing that everybody else faced the same problems. Debra never failed to remind us that a dancer can always point her foot harder, stretch her arm farther, and lift her leg higher, no matter how pointed, stretched or lifted the dancer’s body already was.

I do not know why I worked so hard every day in ballet class, or even why I loved dance so much. Perhaps it was because of the lifelong relationships that were established there. Or maybe it was because the dance studio was my only refuge away from family strife, the one place I did not have to hear constant yelling and crying. Whatever the reason might have been, I would like to believe that I loved ballet because I love challenging myself. I love knowing that even when I do not accomplish my immediate goal, I have done something great by putting in that last ounce of effort. I have strengthened myself, earned endurance, and become a better person.

When I look back at the young girl who stands at the barre, muscles shaking in a développé, I whisper to her. “Find any energy left, and push that leg up higher, higher.” For I know that if she does, if I do, we both will gain command and ability. Some might think this is perseverance, while others would say that it is dedication or willpower. I call it strength.

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writer-in-pearls said...
Feb. 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm
this is a beautiful article, it completely captures the feeling of ballet
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