By Debbie Lynn
As I took the last curtsy, my head held high in grace, the curtain closed and the applause was bittersweet.
It was the last few minutes of perfectly choreographed movement. The spotlight bathing my body and the sweat trickling down the nape of my neck was overriding the pain of my heart. This pain was trying to escape through my chest and in the blink of an eye, it was over.
I paused in my glory and thought “I was fluid tonight.”
Backstage, unraveling my elegance, the satin brushes my skin. What softness, what shimmer, and what a fucking lie it all is. Every toe on my foot is bleeding, every nail is cracked, my legs ache, and I am parched and so tired—so very, very tired.
Tonight, I am done.
The last performance, the last pas de duex, and the last time I would ever smell the resin on my toe shoes. The last time breathing in the stank of the musty theater or the overbearing odor of elitism coming from an audience—an audience that could never understand the angst, my pain and the darker side of ballet (The Black Swan has nothing on me).
We, (the dancers of the night) weave. We bend, turn out, and we ask our bodies to do unthinkable things; it is torture laced in delicate pink. The lightness, the refinement and the lavender moments eventually give way to mutilated feet, a beaten down ego and a body that has been denied some very simple pleasures, like food. Drug abuse, eating disorders and all kinds of sexual preferences flit around the starved and deranged egos. Almost all have of us have huge arrogance of our craft in monstrous proportions. It is like being in a silk laden loony bin and yet they are my closest of friends.
Creatures of the night, lost in classical music and taking direct hits of adrenaline just to get to class in the morning and do it all over, day after day. And as the realization takes my hand (that I will never be here ever again) I am seized with sorrow. I loved my movements, I loved to dance; it was all I knew for so long but time plays no favorites when we use and abuse our bodies to the edge.
Very few know and understand this tainted grace; it is so well hidden and denied as it stays in its’ crinoline veiled mystique. And those of us who know how much that crinoline itches, know we don’t really like to talk about it. We have an unsung pact to keep it as simple and pure as it appears to be: an accepted practice of silence in honor of the art, and to keep it preserved inside; it’s just what we do.
Like any other feat that surpasses good and moves into excellence, we train to be the best. We forfeit our normal routine, normal life, but what the hell is normal anyway? Our teachers become parents, our peers become our siblings and our home is under the fluorescent lights with a wooden floor. Seems normal.
We are disciplined, we are void, and we are always seeking betterment. We live with pain knowing the payoff is only a few moments of applause and appreciation, but it goes deeper than a curtain call. It’s a lifestyle of perfection, striving to become one with the music, to be the ethereal abstraction floating effortlessly note by note. It’s learning perseverance and the reward is only felt when ice is applied to the torn-up body-mind and soul.
It’s lingering in a cast of thousands and being singled out by one (or more) as special (but no one really is). It’s a dancer’s bane… one day special, the next day, not. Then body gives up, gives in and suddenly, years of training and practice are over.
My two worlds colliding (real and surreal) and then ending with a deep curtsy—my love, my art, and my life.
So, what is next? I surrender to the bow, wipe the tear from my eyes, put my street clothes on and shut the back door. I know it was a good run. I was lucky. I know I gained so much knowledge from living in a world only a handful get to see. I know I was blessed, had some bliss and nothing lasts forever.
The death of the Ballerina: I am no longer performing, but I can take it with me in my mind, forever a dancer in my heart.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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