|Edgar Degas, Three Ballet Dancers, One with Dark Crimson Waist |
1899 (170 Kb); Pastel on paper, 23 1/4 x 19 1/4 in; Barnes Foundation; Photograph by Charalambos Amvrosiou
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Push, Soar, Thud, and Rescue
I pushed myself. I wanted the chance, you see. Without the afternoons, Saturdays, hours alone, there’d be no Firebird, no Swan Queen. I was greedy-not for name fame, never that. What pulled me was having the stage, the music, the risk, the irretrievable moments-all to myself. You, in the audience, all to myself. And if you’d be there, rapt, I would give you everything, all that I had. And I knew our spirits would dance together.
By the time I was ten, play was all but over. I had too much work to do. My legs didn’t lift as high as they needed to and clumsiness interfered with fast, intricate footwork. I took more classes; got on the train after school so that I could take class in a studio in another town from a different teacher, one who didn’t care deeply for me, as my first teacher did. I practiced in the basement at the barre my father installed. Down there on the cement floor, somehow missing the poles that supported our suburban house, I flew to the allegros in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, suffered with strange longings when the slow themes took over my child’s body. There are children who dance, play piano, write poems, sing, long before experience informs them, and yet they get it right. I don’t understand this now, and I certainly didn’t understand it then, but I danced to Chopin with emotions I had no names for, would have no names for until adulthood when I christened them.
As a teenager I wore tiaras and was partnered by princes. Finally I could take some pride in my “line,” my extensions, my pirouettes. For a brief, innocent time, dancing was joy. But I moved to New York and more accomplished dancers were everywhere. Passion and “musicality” were not enough; I needed strength, technique. I studied under teachers who were gifted, cruel, inspiring, relentless, and impossibly sophisticated. The worst they could do to me was ignore me in class. Indifference was devastating. Of course I cried, but I-never considered quitting. I was aware of a larger world, cared about it too, but dance was where I lived, had lived, continued to live, even successfully, even with some fame, until I turned thirty and tore my Achilles heel; the ironic injury. A month went by without daily class, then two, then the doctors advised limits. Two hours a day, then two hours of rest. No jumping at all. Idiots! They understood nothing. I stopped dancing and landed with a thump in a flat world, old at thirty. I deconstructed and became a sodden heap, without motive while dance slowly, painfully drained out of me. After living through two stark years of empty spirit, humble wishes (hardly ambitions) rescued me: I wanted only to walk, head erect, feet on the ground, simply and, possibly, with grace; I wanted to regain dignity, but only my rightful share. I learned, slowly, to extend, to stretch, to share in an off-stage world, without the practice, without techniques. I am still learning.