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.
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.
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.