My Perception of Beauty This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 18, 2011
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I remember vividly my first real bolt of inspiration. I'm six years old and convinced that ballet is too technical. I prefer chocolate. Suddenly, the golden afternoon light fills the mirror just so, and for one moment, I see a ballerina. Awe rushes through me, and a ballerina becomes the most beautiful thing in the world. I hone my ballerina, in fantasy and practice, until she is immaculate, with her honey eyes, pink sugar legs, sucrose smile, and French vanilla skin—impossibly perfect in every way.

Over the years, ballet lost its luster. It became too technical for a 14-year-old. When I left my time-intensive dance academy in high school to pursue new interests, I rushed to the glitter and danger of the cheerleading team.

Tara was the best on the squad, a future captain. Her eyes smoldered and sizzled the way ballerinas’ never did. Her lips shone, juicy like Eve's. When she was overexcited she stuttered and lost her words; her half-speech was silver-splendid as any muse's. Her tearless letter to her love written during cheer camp on the back of a Twinkies box, a confession, an inquiry, and a sermon all in one, is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I was captivated not by her strengths, but by her flaws, her humanity, the fierceness with which she bore her scars. The perfume she gave me smells like waterfalls. I painted my bruises dark to match hers; I wished my prefrontal cortex away so that I could live as recklessly as she did.

She broke her arm. No regrets, no apologies. She just fell the wrong way, they said. (Fell the wrong way?! It could have been her head!) I was her heir apparent; I had to fly her stunts exactly. I did, conscience screaming, and we finished the season well. She approved of my feats, both elating and terrifying me.

It wasn’t until a few weeks into the next season, when new talent meant new stunts, that I fully realized how much I was endangering dancing, my first love (more importantly, a love that never tried to kill me.) Though the team would do fine without me, I couldn’t abandon them just because I feared for my safety. No, I needed a legitimate escape, so I enrolled in the most legitimate thing I could be admitted to: a professional level ballet program.

Why the famed Nutmeg Conservatory let a half-jazz dancer through their doors I’ll never know. But I was there, and I was ready, although two days and two bruised toes later I was decidedly off-pointe. I continued, though, in flat shoes, catching glimpses of the real-life ballerinas in the mirrors.

They were predictable, but peculiar, each trapped in their habits, their little sins. Katy-Sue was mindlessly in love with a boy she’d left in Russia. Jacqueline’s academic strength was math: chicken had 231 calories, with sauce 312, cheese 344. She chose only lettuce, with 8. Melina was slowly going insane. I blamed the fact that the pianist only played songs from The Sound of Music; Julie Andrews was in my nightmares too. Bridget was farther gone. She had distant, stony eyes and she danced precisely, perfectly, always with a dull scowl. We all suffered at the hands of Eleanor, ballerina extraordinaire in her day, and quite possibly the maddest of us all. All of the dancers were fascinating, but I clung tight to The Sound of Music. It was familiar, ever-present, my Virgil.

Lately I’ve stopped bouncing between extremes. The middle path is equally vibrant and better for my health. I continue to learn, though, from those whirlwind years. Though I have yet to define beauty, my aesthetic tastes have broadened from solely sweets to sours, bitters, and salts, richening my human experience. Along the way, I’ve found great solace in each new muse. I live now exuberantly and astutely, senses open to the infinite forms life’s beauty takes.





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