Wouldn’t it be nice?

It has been over a month since I last posted here.  I am much better. I feel like me again.

I have left that old job behind, and it was like something snapped. This coincided with me going back to university, to my university, which is a place I absolutely love (nerd alert). I have started my PhD, and boy, I have a long, long journey ahead.

Today I am happy, but wistful. Very wistful. I find myself listening, singing and humming to Wouldn’t It Be Nice, by the Beach Boys, over and over and over again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, and we wouldn’t have to wait so long…

I constantly talk to The Hubby about how our lives are just starting.  I am 24, and he is 27. I have just started a PhD and he is working and studying so hard for his career. We have so much ahead of us. So much to do. so much to live. I am excited about all this.

But sometimes I get wistful. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, and we wouldn’t have to wait so long to have careers, to be able to afford ballet and football tickets, to be able to help our parents.

To have less of our current worries, and to have a whole new set of worries.

To have a family.

And wouldn’t it be nice to live together, in the kind of world where we belong…

Our friends are light-years ahead of us. Or so it seems sometimes. They earn much more, don’t need to pay for an expensive education, can afford mortgages, expensively huge weddings, and they are planning on having children soon.

We can’t have any of that. Not yet anyway.

We made different choices about our lives, and we are both working hard to achieve our dreams. But wouldn’t it be nice if we were already there? We could then have new dreams.

I think about the kind of world where we belong, our future careers, home and family.

Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray, it might come true..

I have recently found out I have a condition that renders me, shall we say, less fertile than the average woman. But our future has children in it. We have always wanted to adopt. It was one of the first things we talked about.

Our future home will be small, cramped and messy. But it will be happy, warm and full of love. Our kids may be tripping over their toys and books, sleeping on top of each other and there may only be frozen soup for dinner (I am a terrible cook). But we will all be together.

You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it.

But let’s talk about it.

I guess everyone gets like this sometimes, it is not so much mindless ‘what ifs’, but hopeful, happy dreams for the future.

One day, hopefully we will get there. And the present is also happy.We  are finally getting married in a few months, I have started my PhD,  The Hubby is also progr. Everything feels like steps in our journey.

But sometimes, it would be nice to be already there, Wouldn’t it?

 


Leaving the ugly ballerina behind.

For the past few weeks things have been really, really difficult. A couple of days ago, I hit rock bottom. I had really turned that corner where everything was bad, negative, all I wanted to do was cry, scream, and hide under the covers.

I hadn’t had a ballet dream in ages. This past week, I had one. And it was awful. Everything about me was wrong. My feet were in pointes, but they were horrible, my legs were wrong, my hands looked like claws, I could not do what the other girls were doing. It was awful, so dreadful. I woke up shaking and crying. Writing about it now almost makes the tears come back.

I was not ok.

That day, I wrote a horribly negative email to a dear, wonderful friend. As I was writing that email, I saw that I had really gone around the bend and lost it. I had actually internalised and absorbed all the negativity around me, and it was clouding, poisoning my mind. That ugly, broken down ballerina in my dream was not me. It could not be. That bad dream personified my current state of mind, and as awful as it was, I am glad I had it. It made me realise that I had hit rock-bottom.

And that helped. Admitting to myself that I had lost it was the first step in starting to get things together again. I know it is a cliche, but after confronting the ugly ballerina, the only thing left for me to do was to find a way to leave it behind and climb my way out of the hole.

Yes, a lot of what is happening is due to external factors that cannot be changed at the moment. But I can’t, I absolutely CANNOT internalise it. I cannot bring it home with me. I cannot let it bring me down. I have to find a way to be strong enough shield myself against it.

Lorry at Bead 109 has written a very moving post that has really helped me in my quest to find my way out of the hole.  She also tells about an inspiring Japanese custom:

 

“In Japan, there is place just outside of most of the temples to find your fortune but fear not if you get a bad one because there will be a place like this to tie the bad fortune and leave it behind…”

 

I have also tied a ribbon where my sadness is. I see it everyday. I acknowledge it. But I don’t take it with me. I acknowledge the ugly ballerina, the ball of negativity that I had absorbed, and I move on. I try to anyway.

Amidst all this, there are so many wonderful things. I am lucky enough to have the hubby, who is my best friend and my rock. My family are getting better, and I have made fantastic friends through twitter. The bad times are almost over, and it is up to me not to let it get to me again.

That dear friend on the receiving end of my emails told me to be kinder to myself… And yesterday, I did just that by taking some time and watching my Giselle DVD.  It was wonderful.   I find so much of myself in this ballet… I’ve never danced it, I never will. But there is something so me in that ballet. Watching it made me see a vague outline of myself again.

So this is it. A pledge for this week: I will be kinder to myself. I will surround myself with things that I love, and I will pull through.

This week, I will start to pull myself together again, and working towards finding my way back to the ballerina in my head, back to me.

 

Are you a ballerina?

I was at work a few days ago when someone asked me:

“Are you a ballerina?”

The question did not come out of the blue. No, he wasn’t impressed by my gracefulness, he did not think I looked like a ballerina in any way.

“Are you a ballerina?”

He asked because I had been blabbing about ballet again.

“Are you a ballerina?”

“No.” I said. But for a tiny nth of a second, a pause that no one but me noticed, I hesitated.

“Are you a ballerina?”

My head said no. Of course not. My heart also said no. But the hesitation was there. Of course I am not a ballerina. But something in me desperately wishes I was.

Can you only be called a ballerina when you are a professional dancer with a ballet company? If so, how about thousands of ballet students?  Are pointe shoes the hallmark of a ballerina? (are they?)

Is it the clothes you wear? White tights, black leotard, and pink ballet slippers? Tutus? Pointes?

Is it just taking class? What level of class?  What frequency of class?

Is it loving ballet?

All of this was in that split second of hesitation, as something in me tried to answer “Yes.”

There is only one way I can call myself a ballerina: in my head. Because when I close my eyes, I dance. I am graceful, musical, and I am on pointes.

But that is not enough.

That is why I search for class, that is why I wear my leotard, tights and ballet slippers.

As the lovely Johanna from Pointe Til You Drop said:

“You may dream of pas de deux with Marcelo, of octoplet pirouettes and standing ovations, but even simple tendus and pliés already equal happiness.

They do equal happiness. Because they make you feel like a ballerina.

And perhaps, with your eyes closed, for a moment as your work through those tendus, a part of you feels like answering “yes”.

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We are all weird… or is it just me?

I often wonder what ballet dancers think of us, crazy ballet fans. Steve at You Dance Funny has written this incredibly funny and spot-on post about the many disorders we ballet fans have. But I do wonder what dancers actually think of people like us. Do they think we are all weird?

But then I thought, ballet dancers already get to live ballet and it is no wonder that they blog/tweet about different things. But I have to live ballet differently, so it is also  no wonder I talk/blog/tweet about it a lot.

I was leafing through my diary searching for an old picture of my sisters the other day, when the following fell out:

I was born this way....

And yes, I am born this way. I love ballet to an extent that may be considered a little weird, but this weirdness is part of who I am. After all, I am weird in many different ways:

1- I know The West Wing by heart. It is quite embarrassing. My party piece is guessing the episode and season of any West Wing quote. Minutes of fun for everyone involved.

Favourite Season: 5 & 6. Least favourite character: Josh

2- I am a massive self-centred nerd. Want proof? I keep old exam notes. These below? They are revision notes from over a year ago. I kept them because they are just SO GOOD and detailed, I cannot bear to throw them away. I often find myself looking through them again for no reason.

Such gorgeous notes! 😛

3- I have bizarre ballet dreams sometimes. Once I dreamed I was dancing the Dying Swan with Federico Bonelli. I know the Dying Swan is not a pdd. But in my dream it was. And at one point I did this glooooorious, luxurious backbend that was to die for. It was Bolshoi-like.  It was gorgeous. You should have seen it.

It was even better than this one!

4- I cannot stand packs of mixed pens. I either buy a separate pack each of blue, red, and black pens or I don’t buy them at all. The Hubby once bought a pack that had 5 blue pens, 3 black pens and 2 red ones. It bothered me so much that I hid it so well, he has never been able to find them. By the way, these rules apply only to pens, not highlighters or crayons.

I love pens!!!! As long as they are grouped according to colour.

5- We have an ever expanding family:

They are our pride and joy...

So you see, it is not just my overwhelming love for ballet that is weird. But I am ok with my weirdness. Are you?Am  the only proud weirdo out there? What are your five weird points?

Please share and don’t leave me hanging alone in my weirdness 🙂

My ballet story

Usually when I tell people that I love ballet, the following conversation happens:

– Oooh! Did you use to dance it then.

-Yes, I did it for many years as a child.

-That’s nice, at what age did you stop?

-12

-Oh why is that?

-Oh you know, dodgy knee, lack of talent.

We chuckle, and people sometimes try to prod, assuming a tragic story, assuming my knee got on the way of my dreams. But I don’t have a tragic ballet story. I don’t share it with you because it is tragic, or grand or self-agrandising. I share it with you because it is mine, and I love reading and hearing about yours. I share it because it makes me smile.

*

I started when I was 3 years old, just like almost every little girl. I just loved all things girly and pink, and at that age, you cannot get more girly and pink than ballet. My mum says I looked very uncoordinated and sloppy, but very happy. She says I took it very seriously, and loved every minute of class.

I was 7 when I saw my first ballet. It was the VHS version of Balanchine’s Nutcracker. At least I think it was Balanchine’s… You know the one, with Macauley Culkin? Has anyone else seen it? I watched it over, and over, and over again. I rented it so often from the local video store that, apparently, whenever the owners saw me coming, they took it of the shelves and handed it to my dad (apparently I had Gone With the Wind, Cleopatra and The Nutcracker on rotation, of course I couldn’t follow the plot of those movies, but I just LOVED the costumes).

 

 

I absolutely LOVED The Nutcracker! That was real ballet, that was why I did all those exercises at the barre, and why we had to dance on our tippy-toes, and why my teacher insisted on perfecting my port de bras and my turnout.

It was around that time that my dad started travelling to Russia, and he would tell me on his return about watching the Kirov ballet. He still tells me about seeing The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. These experiences have stayed with him and with me.

In short, I was in love with ballet, and silently, to myself, I decided I wanted to be a ballerina. So I worked very, very hard in my ballet classes. I also took Jazz and Rhythmic Gymnastics. ( I had lots of extra-curricular activities, including English classes, swimming classes, and I seem to remember once taking  a Tennis lesson,failing to hit a single ball, and walking back to the ballet studio).

Alas, life had other plans. My port de bras  was awful. Whenever I held my arms in fifth, instead of a graceful circle, I would get something resembling a square. (come to think of it, I looked a lot like one of the nymphs in L’après-midi d’un faune). I distinctly remember being mocked/corrected by my friends as I bourréed  across the stage in a golden tutu. I also could never get the perfect ballet hands and fingers (witness the claw), never enough turnout, and very poor coordination. But I didn’t care. I more than made up for it in enthusiasm.

 

Little me during a ballet recital.

 

We all looked up to the older girls, who were already dancing on pointe. And we knew that when we hit 11, our teacher would start preparing us for it. I turned 11, the teacher selected the girls that would continue on to pointe.  And I wasn’t one of them.

I was distraught. I refused to believe it. My mother, who always knew in her heart I wasn’t a dancer, bought me my first and only pair of pointe shoes. I remember it so well… that special store in Rio de Janeiro that sold the pointe shoes… the feel of the air-conditioned room. I felt so guilty telling her I needed the shoes, because in my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t…

My ballet teacher was not a monster. In fact, he was fantastic. He had spotted something else though, on top of my lack of talent. He saw that I was having trouble with my right knee. Grand pliés were becoming painful, so was any balance on my right leg. I actually had to move away from the barre on occasion… But I didn’t care.

I started taking private lessons. But even my private teacher chose to keep me away from grand pliés. Which is not a good thing.

I remember once putting on my pointes before my private teacher could see me, not even breaking them in, and crashing around the studio. I was so happy.  I only wore my pointe shoes twice. That time, and the day after I bought them, lacing them up alone in my room…

 

Image Copyright: Jim Kelly

 

But like I said, life had other plans. I stopped ballet classes, and a few months before I turned 13, my family started the preparations to move from our tiny village in Rio de Janeiro, to Vienna, Austria. I don’t know where my pointe shoes ended up. I think they got lost in the move.

I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t pining for ballet. Like I said, this is not a tragedy. I loved Vienna, I loved my new school (once a nerd, always a nerd). The school offered an after-school ballet class, but I had put that behind me even before I left Brazil. I was happy, studying, learning English, snowboarding (my neighbour and good friend Ike fell on me when we were on the T-Bar lift. He fell on my right knee as our snowboards got tangled and we were dragged up the mountain. IT HURT). I loved living in Vienna, and the city still means so much to me.

But ballet was not really behind me. Whenever it somehow reappeared in my life, I reacted strongly against it. Once, a Brazilian friend of my mothers announced that her niece was moving in with her for a few years. She was my age and had gotten an apprenticeship with the Wien Staatsoper ballet. I felt all these ugly feelings and emotions rise. I met her only once, and she looked gorgeous…. She looked like a ballerina. Even standing around she had perfect posture, perfect turnout, when she moved her arms to get a glass of water, it was a perfect fluid movement. I smiled and said hello, but deliberately avoided her. I am still quite ashamed at how silly I was. She must have been so lonely, not speaking a word of German… But I avoided her… I got home that night and cried.

 

Image Copyright: S.M. Tunli

 

The Wien Staatsoper is my favourite place in Vienna. I always felt such a strong pull to it, and would walk around it (IT IS MASSIVE) and sit on the fountain next to it for hours. I once went on a guided tour and got to stand on the stage. I never associated those feelinsg with ballet. Maybe they are related to it, maybe not. But I love and miss that building so much. I never saw a ballet there. I actually only went once, to see Wagner’s Parcifal with my English teacher. (I still have NO idea what it is about btw!)

I moved to England for my undergraduate, and while I lived in Bournemouth, I started researching ballet classes, but never went through with it. I took ballroom dancing lessons instead. I moved to London, and never gave a thought to the Royal Ballet, until one day in December, 6 months after having moved to London.

For some reason, I have no idea why, I went on youtube and googled The Nutcracker. I don’t remember if I wanted to find clips of the old movie, or if I wanted to listen to some of the music. But I found clips from the Royal Ballet’s production, with Alina Cojocaru as Clara. I watched the entire show on youtube. And I can’t describe what I felt. I cried, I laughed, I was hypnotised.  I watched it a second time that night in bed. I scoured youtube for more ballet clips, and I watched everything hungrily. It feels as if I didn’t even blink.

 

 

The next day, I ordered Romeo and Juliet from Amazon. First class delivery. Then I bought La Fille mal Gardee. Then came Giselle and something clicked in me a. I asked only for ballet DVDs for Christmas (Rob asked if I had developed a fetish). And I allowed myself to truly love ballet again. Or for the first time.

A year passed, and whilst I watched ballet DVDs and youtube all the time, I still did not go the The Royal Opera House.  I bought lots of ballet books, read lots and lots of ballet reviews online, ballet blogs (a massive thank you to the Bag Ladies at The Ballet Bag. You played a huge role in me finding ballet again. You ROCK). But I didn’t go see to the ballet.

My friend Sameen and I bonded over our shared love of ballet (and mutual loathing of game theory), and she encouraged me to come see the Royal Ballet with her. I always got out of it, until she just went ahead and bought tickets for the two of us, so I had to go. It was La Fille mal Gardee. I was a bit nervous before it started, but I shouldn’t have worried. Ballet only made me sad when I was being a silly teenager. In reality, it was – and is –  something that fills me with joy.

Yes, sometimes I get those silly ugly feelings, but I know that it is not my life. I am also making up for lost time. I go to the ROH whenever I can and I am trying to get back to classes, but it seems so difficult to find classes near me at a reasonable price… But I still do some DIY ballet.

Rob has walked in on me many times rehearsing a few variations. Just yesterday I was demonstrating a balance, when I attempted a pirouette and knocked something off the table. He calls me his clumsy ballerina. (Best reaction was when I was trying to reenact some moves from Macmillan’s Rite of spring. He walked in on me and asked: ARE YOU OK???).

I am really not a dancer.  I am a ballerina only in my head, and occasionally,  my kitchen. And I am more myself today than I have ever been.

 

My ballet mess.

 

I occasionally dream I am a ballerina… These dreams are very real. I can feel the floor under my toes, I am on pointes and every muscle in my body feels the movement, I can feel the roughness of the shoe against my feet, the satin ribbons around my ankles, and I dance…  These dreams always feel like gifts, and they are enough for me.

*

So this is my ballet story. As I said, it is no drama, or nothing really special. But it does make me smile.  What is yours?

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When I look in the mirror

Sometimes I grimace. Sometimes I smile. Often I frown, and sometimes I gotAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! Usually first thing in the morning.  So far so good, so normal I guess.

Yesterday I finished reading Portia de Rossi’s memoir: Unbearable Lightness,  about her struggle with an eating disorder. I have always loved her character in arrested development, and I think she is a lovely person.  I highly, highly recommend it.  It is a beautifully written book and painfully honest.

One thing in particular stuck with me. She was once 89 pounds. 40 kgs. Dangerously underweight. And yet, when she looked in the mirror, she saw fat. She saw rolls of fat on her stomach. She wasn’t hallucinating. She could grab it and everything.  At first, I thought she was insane. But that stuck with me as I read the next sentences, and my mind started to drift. Hang on, Nina. You do this quite often. You look in the mirror and think you need to lose weight, even though you know you don’t. I don’t diet or anything, I just think I should.

Portia did ballet as a child, and she loved it. The only other eating disorder related book I have read is Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave, which is crazy scary.  . Portia does not link ballet with eating disorders, but a lot of people make that connection.

My rational side says that you cannot have an eating disorder and be a ballet dancer. You need to be fit, strong, an athlete. And athletes looks after their bodies.

But I know this is not true. There is a short of Gelsey Kirkland dancing Giselle, and she is absolutely lovely in it. She was smack bang in the middle of her drug use and eating disorder. In her book, she talks about being critically lauded for performances she has no recollection of dancing.

Similarly, Portia de Rossi was surviving at only 300 calories a day (my tomato soup for lunch today has 254 calories) and she still had the energy to follow an extreme workout regime.  This is difficult to comprehend for me.

This morning a couple of work colleagues were discussing their diets. They don’t need to lose weight. But they feel they do. Just like I feel. A while ago I thought that if I could not be a ballerina, I could at least look like one.  Which I realised a few moments later, was a very stupid idea. But my usual response when I look in the mirror is to frown.

What is up with that? Why do we think we don’t look good enough as we are? Why do we think we need to look thinner? Why in God’s world do I look in the mirror and feel inadequate and unpretty?

I don’t have an eating disorder, my colleagues don’t have it either. But I do have an image disorder.

I am not saying this to fish for compliments. I am just being very unoriginal and repeating something that has been said over, and over, and over again: there is a definite pressure for women to look ‘better’, to feel that they need to look better.

Jean Kilbourne is amazing. I read her book Can’t Buy me Love in school. My English teacher Mr. Snider (best teacher ever) added it to our required reading list for that year. She says everything I want to say in a much more eloquent way:

And she is so, so right.

“Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enourmous amount of time, money striving to achieve this look, and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable. Because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness.”

I have to repeat this video over, and over again. And it makes me feel better. And I want to stand up against this. I will try to stop feeling bad about the way I look. I will try to educate myself, and change my attitude to my image.  That does not mean I will throw away my make-up and high-heeled shoes. I think it is just as unattainable to look in the mirror first thing in the morning, and feel gorgeous. I mean, when I look in the mirror with no make-up on, the imprint of my pillows, puffy eyes, and swollen sleepy face, the last thing I feel is pretty. (the husband finds me very sexy first thing in the morning. WHO WOULDN’T??). If my self-esteem was based on my first-thing-in-the-morning look, then failure would also be inevitable.  But after I wash my face, and put on some eyeliner, I will try my hardest to at least stop thinking about my weight.

This post is not about ballet at all. I have just been thinking about this all day and wanted it to get out of my chest.  Now let’s all  dance for a  little while 😉

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