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A Dancer's Old Shoes

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My sleep is restless, troubled by dreams of movement; not allowing me to keep my mind still. The television program I just watched showed hundreds, all willing and eager to move as I move, obviously some better than others, but still I have my place among them. The life of a dancer is tough; as Agnes De Mill once said "Ballet technique is arbitrary and very difficult. It never becomes easy--it becomes possible". Tough on your body, tough on your mind, and tough on your soul. I've let most of my trained faculties slip since my departure from serious dance instruction. But beginning again has allowed me to feel the pressure on my skin that I love and always yearn for. The way I move and stretch lends itself to a world outside of common movement, where each intentional act is one of focused and concentrated beauty. Expressive movement is what ballet is all about.

When my back arches it creates a silhouette down my body that can captivate and reassure the girl in the mirror that I can still move like I remember. My toes stay pointed, despite the strain, and hit the bare wood floor hard, drumming in a constant beat along with everyone else's. I should get new shoes; my feet and ankles will thank me in the morning. I dug my old ballet shoes out of the back of the closet the other day, it surprised me how much my feet could grow, larger and out of shape and practice. My knees bend as I hit the floor in time with the music and movement of my hands: in and out. I stretch as far as my muscles will allow pushing myself through the pain, sweat and ache. Especially that of warm up push-ups, I've never had great upper body strength. I shuffle like an old woman who has seen better years, my calves ache for days; I take my time and dread walking up stairs. When I stretch certain ways I can feel muscles I've never been consciously aware of protest in a shoot of pain. And I love it. The pain is a physical reminder of my progress.

Unfortunately or fortunately I never reached Pointe, troubles with my knees required me to give up dance completely, and because I never reached that very physically demanding step most of my physical training didn't last. I've lost the posture, the strong limbs and the flexibility.

There's a certain step I can't quite get right, my ankles are just unable to add more bounce, unwilling to propel me that essential couple inches in my bounce. I trot across the floor; I push higher, hoping I won't trip and fall in front of everyone. Humiliation is a constant fear of mine in dance. When mirrors surround you how can you ignore reflecting on every flaw? When insecurity is not only magnified for the world to see, but also displayed on a stage. It's one of the reasons why I believe I'm a terrible public speaker, but somehow for me dance is different. I can let go; feel the flow of movement though my body and the world can melt away replaced by the music and the routine I've worked so hard to learn. I know that routine in and out and think about it constantly. I go through it in the morning on a packed subway, during an idle moment in one of my more monotonous lectures and right before I go to sleep.

That is what dance has always possessed for me: a constant action in the back of my mind. With practice and action it becomes a way of life. Not only in mentality but also in physicality, they say a dancer never forgets their training, for better or worse (Malszecki). These learned abilities are the result of training that for most dancers consumes a large part of their lives. Ballet training forces the body to move against what social culture normally requires of us to move physically in this age. It's not that a straight turnout is impossible, it's just that normally young children are not taught to stand because it is not the norm.

When people look at me, they don't see a dancer or even assume I've ever danced. It's always the skinnier girls the ones that look elegant and sleek. When they see pictures of me as a little girl, the skinny dancer, they wonder and so do I. When I stopped dancing around age 11, I lost more than a hobby, my whole body changed drastically and with the onset of puberty a dancer's body was mine no more. The career of a dancer requires a very specific body type and very specific mental faculties. Being long and lean may be eventually attainable by training, but many of the mental and expressive abilities required are requisite before training even begins. But even girls with all the right physical attributes, most often predetermined by genetics, are rejected. I once knew a girl who had trained for



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