On ballet and taking space

“Don’t make yourself small”. Mme. R. shut her eyes and opened her arms widely to show me. “You have to use those long arms!” Something about the words “long arms” didn’t sit well in my stomach and for the rest of the class I struggled to concentrate.

If you saw an old photograph of me from my primary school days, you would recognise me instantly. I was hard to miss. I was skinny, tomboyish and tall – taller than most of my other classmates. I was never bullied for my height but, as is the case with most children, I didn’t like being different. I wanted to be small and “cute” like the other girls in my class. So over the years, I formed habits, mostly subconsciously, to help make me seem smaller. I slouched my shoulders, bent my knees ever so slightly whenever photos were taken and generally did all I could to take up less space.

Then puberty hit and my growth spurt stopped and suddenly I wasn’t the tallest girl in class anymore. But while I felt more comfortable with my height, my old habits still prevailed.

When I started dancing seriously again a few years ago, I came face-to-face with these subconscious behaviours. Slouched shoulders are a no-no in ballet class, as are bent knees (aside from the plies of course) and taking up space with long elegant lines is what one is meant to do. When my teacher mentioned my “long arms”, she hit a nerve that was still raw from my childhood days. She meant it as a compliment but in my mind’s eye all I could see was a lanky kid who didn’t look quite as “cute” as the other little girls.

We all know how body language changes our internal state – people who are open-minded tend to have more “open” body language and vice versa. So I began to think about what my body language was saying about me and my internal state. Why am I so afraid to take up space? Do I not feel I deserve to? Or is it just a result of social conventions of “femininity” (“women should be small”)?

The past few weeks, Mme. R. has been trying to get me to lengthen up and take up more space. She keeps telling me to use my long arms and make myself “bigger”. This, I guess is another case of how dance can ultimately lead to self-acceptance and a better feel of who we are.

I know many people who were tall kids/are tall adults who have all developed their own “creative” ways to make themselves seem smaller. What would happen if we deemed ourselves worthy of taking up the “space” that is rightfully ours?

Something tells me that if we let our bodies unfold, our minds and hearts will undoubtedly follow.

Dance helps your body and mind unfold!

11th October, 2014

As I stepped forward into the light, it was like entering another world.

All I could see were my fellow dancers on stage and all I could hear was the music. This, I thought, is WHY…

Why I’d rather go to rehearsal than go for a night out in the town; why I’d rather spend my money on leotards and pointe shoes than high heels. This is why I dance.

We had our first performance as a company on the 11th October. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we first began working on the choreography and now it’s over. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with such a wonderful group of people. I’ve learned so much about myself as a dancer and as a person and I’m finally not afraid of improvising in front of strangers (this is a biiiig step, believe me)!

I spent the whole day after the performance in a daze – trying to re-live the experience of dancing on stage. Up until then I had convinced myself that performing on stage was not that important. That going to class, improving my technique and having fun were all that counted. Now I’m not sure if that’s really true.

I know it’s subjective – some people “need” to perform on stage and others are content with “performing” in class alone. On the 11th of October, I realised I belong to the former group and I can’t wait for the next show.

 

Three dancers performing on a stage with arms outstreched.

A group of dancers on stage performing

I return to you

Hello everyone! It’s been a while, I know.

As a peace offering, I’m sharing an excerpt from a poem I wrote a while ago – the words seemed fitting.

Thank you so much for sticking around despite my being M.I.A.

The flowers are for you, too.  🙂

 

I return to you

I return to you

With a quick and loyal stride

I return to you

Like a splendid roaring tide

I return to you

For I never should have gone

I return to you

Unashamed of what I’ve done

Still I return to you

Flowers for you!