In retrospect, the beginning of the end of my career in classical ballet began in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school with the following statement: I want to try out for Cheer. Yep, Cheer – as in pom-poms, pleated skirts, football, sidelines, halftime, give-me-an ‘O,’ Cheer. Through time, and space, and therapy, I’ve come to know this statement as the beginning of the end because it revealed the values that would determine the course of my life: I thrive more on relationship with others than on achievement in my craft.
From ages six to sixteen, I can say, in all sincerity, that there is no place I would have rather been than the halls of the dance studio, where I was an active kid who existed in a happy web of relationships. The dynamic at my studio changed, however, as I approached seventeen years of age. My director was often absent, there was dissention in the faculty, and the decision was made for me to leave the studio I loved, for another, that was closer and seemingly less drama. But the loss of all those relationships sucked the life out of me and I went looking for it elsewhere – with a new kind of team – thinking maybe I could find it at my high school as cheerleader.
I am not sorry I didn’t get to be a cheerleader. The idea was squashed by parents and teachers before I blinked. But I felt disempowered and choked out by their intercepting hands. Had I been a different kind of kid I may have gone into a full out rebellion. But I am more prone to depression than rebellion and the result was a silent, sad resignation because I did not wish to provoke maternal anxiety (bless her heart), only allowed myself to do what the powers-that-be deemed worthy, so I stopped rocking the boat and stuck to ballet.
My career lasted five years out of high school, and I even had a good time for some of it, but the good times always correlated with good relationships, and the converse was true as well. So leaving dance was inevitable, because I did not care enough about the craft to survive the struggle: relationship carried me though the dark times of the craft, but the craft could not carry me though the dark times of relationship. For a while, I struggled with deep feelings of inferiority for not being as devoted to my art form as my peers… for not being the artist my hometown hailed… for failing to persevere, but I have lived outside the ballet bubble long enough to know that ballet really isn’t all there is to life, and that it is even respectable and brave to leave the thing that has given you purpose and identity for a wisp of a call to a life that honors your deepest needs and values.
Lots of advice bubbles up in my heart out of this experience. Advice for parents, teachers, studios, and students. But I do not love unsolicited advice, so I do not give it. Instead, I will treasure the things I’ve learned in my heart and be present with the people in my life – present to their spoken words and hidden needs… hyper aware of the new meaning this practice is taking on as my growing belly propels me towards shaping another being. The beliefs I can hold with any sense of certainty are few; however, one thing I’ve come to believe is that my interests, jobs, and abilities will change shift with time, but my devotion to cultivating relationship will not. I’ve learned that loving and being loved is the only thing in life I really need.