It’s Monday evening, and I’m just finishing barre in Marisa’s 5:30 ballet class. Things haven’t been going well tonight—my body is not listening to me, and I’ve felt off-balance, stiff and awkward the whole time. I know what each movement should look like, but to me, it looks as if I’m falling far short today, and frankly, it’s depressing.
As we move on to adagio (my biggest weakness) in the center, it only gets worse. I can’t get control of my core, I’m wobbling in my pointe shoes and my legs look so low and turned-in. By the time we get to our pirouette combinations, I’m starting to hate what I see in the mirror; I’m angry at myself and am feeling like a failure. I haven’t been able to check the disappointment I felt at the barre, and prevent it from dampening my mood and momentum.
I was only too happy when class ended, and felt so bad about my performance that I approached Marisa and began to apologize: “I’m so sorry about tonight, it was so terrible." Marisa said to me “I see you looking at yourself when you dance, and you have a bad relationship with what you see in the mirror. You need to learn to focus on your strengths—if you have a beautiful right foot, show that right foot! If you have a beautiful port-de-bras, show it and say: ‘Look at me!’”
What Marisa told me that night is important for every ballet dancer out there to know: Draw inspiration and motivation not from an image of perfection, but from yourself. Look in the mirror and ask, “What do I do beautifully?” and not “What am I doing wrong?” Ballet is so hard, so physically and emotionally challenging, that we need to stop and be proud of ourselves from time to time, and of the wonderful things we can do. So what if you don’t have the highest extension? What about the elegant line of your shoulders and arms in first arabesque, your flying grand jeté, or precise tendu? Ask any teacher, and they will tell you that all movements are equally important. A well-executed ronds de jambe or fondu combination is just as impressive as sky-high grand battements, no matter how advanced you are.
It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re trying to get better at something as incredibly difficult as ballet. So take it from someone who knows—next time you’re feeling down in class, take a breath and see yourself with fresh eyes, and you will dance with fresh joy.