My First Love

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer

Like many relationships that begin in youth, I had unrealistic visions of our future together

Lots of little girls fall in love. While in elementary school, quite a few boys had my attention (wanted or not), but I believe I met my real first love elsewhere. I fell in love with ballet.

Our relationship began like many others — girl sees dancer, girl wants to be dancer, girl's dreams soar as she begins to pursue dancing. Like many relationships begun in youth, I had unrealistic visions of our future together.

Ours was a May/December romance. The art of ballet was old, I was young. Yet, I wasn't looking for a sugar daddy or to be a trophy wife. I recognized that I would be luckier to have ballet than ballet would be to have me. I realized it would be ballet making me look good rather than the other way around.

While ballet and I were together, I felt the relationship was lopsided. I thought ballet was flawless, while it showed me I was flawed. I'd gaze with envy upon ballet's other mistresses — the girls with more muscular legs, more flexibility, better arches, stronger ankles and smaller derrieres. Despite the insecurities ballet magnified (and perhaps even initiated) in me, I kept it around for as long as I enjoyed it.

As any long-term love will, my relationship with ballet morphed into something different as years went on. I came to terms with the fact that ballet would never love me the way I loved it, but I was content to stay friends. I was OK being the reliable and unobjectionable wingman while ballet flirted with other girls. I put the work into the relationship because I still got so much out of it.

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Although I didn't particularly like putting my hair into a bun because I could never get it to look perfect enough, I loved most everything else. I loved strapping on the toe shoes. I loved being a kid who got to leave school in Brooklyn early so I could trek into Manhattan for my midweek classes. I loved the ache in my muscles and the warmth I felt as I put my clothes on over my leotard and tights after classes. I loved when it was winter and I came out of ballet school to freezing temperatures — it was a small price to pay for the chocolate croissant I would always buy myself from Zaabar's on the way to the train. I always asked for it to be heated just a little so the chocolate was melty. (This made for a difficult train ride home — eating the melty croissant while balancing and doing my homework on my lap — but soooooo worth the trouble.)

I can't say I loved the friends I made, because I didn't really make many through ballet. But I did love — ADORE — my ballet teacher, who helped me navigate the heartbreak, and still treated me with respect and love when he broke it to me (through my parents) that ballet and I did not have a real future together.

It wasn't until I entered high school that ballet broke up with me forever. I had progressed enough that the classes I needed to take to keep up required a commitment of four days per week. I was about to take on a heavy academic load — I already accepted ballet wouldn't be my career, and that I needed to prepare for the future. Frankly, I was worried about making such a travel and time commitment without knowing what my competitive high school would require.

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My parents acted as mediator between me and ballet. The negotiations with the head of ballet school (NOT my teacher, mind you) sounded something like this:

My parents: She loves it so much, but she can't do four days a week now. She's starting high school.

Head of ballet school: Then she cannot re-enroll.

My parents: We will PAY the school for the four days a week even if she only comes for three — can you please make an exception and allow her to continue?

Head of ballet school: No.

The romance was obviously over. If ballet didn't want me, I sure as hell wasn't going to beg. I was mature enough to go on and embrace new challenges and loves in its place. All these years later, though, I still miss the croissants.

Tags: arts