Fat Ballerina Jumping: Gravity, I defy you!

Oh dear readers, my apologies for my recent silence.  It’s just that when you are not dancing, and your blog is about dancing, well, there’s not much to write about.

You see, I’ve had a cold.  It’s been over a week, and it is seriously derailing my plans for being active and getting more of this weight off, which has once again become my priority because I know that the biggest thing holding me back  from my goals is my weight.  It affects everything from how I feel about myself to how I can and cannot move, even the very steps which can be choreographed into a routine.  And, since I want to continue to be a competitive Pro/Am ballroom dancer, well, I can compete in the state I am in, but not a the level I know I could, and I also know that I will not place as well as I could compared to an equally matched technical dancer (or maybe even people who are less proficient) who looks better.  It isn’t healthy.  It isn’t okay.  And, it’s where I am at the moment.

In any case, today is the first day I’ve actually begun to really feel better.  I’m still not at 100% but the cabin fever is getting to me.  I couldn’t stand the thought of one more night sitting at home after sitting at work all day long.  So, I went to a ballet class.  It’s about perfect for me in terms of challenge because I’m so out of shape.  Doing the class tonight I thought about my old classes from when I was in high school.  If I had taken this class then, I’d have thought this class tonight was too easy.  But now, after not doing it for upwards of 10 years, it’s a challenge just to do a single grand plie’.  Yes, I’ll probably be sore tomorrow, but it feels so good on a lot of other levels.  It was a slow burn – almost like yoga for a dancer, and I got to work on strength, balance, turns….lots of skills that are somewhere in my body memory, but buried under years of disuse.  But unlike ballroom, not too much overwhelming cardio – well, not at the level at which the class is, but trust me, ballet can be extremely taxing!

It got me to thinking, especially after reading this post by Adult Ballerina Project (which has disappeared but still a fascinating blog so I wanted to share a link) which was about when it is, exactly, that a person “becomes” a ballerina.  Which, I thought was a great question.  I never considered myself a true ballerina all the years I danced.  I was never a professional, therefore, in my mind, I did not earn the status of a ballerina.  I was simply someone who did ballet, not a true ballerina.  I still wouldn’t consider myself a ballerina, and I only really see it as something to pursue to support my ballroom dancing.  Interestingly, I do consider myself a ballroom dancer.  How very odd.  And, after all these years, it was actually just an accomplishment to finally accept myself as simply a dancer, a bona fide dancer.  In the past, much like someone who did ballet but was not a ballerina, I was someone who did jazz and tap, but I was not a dancer.  A dancer was a status reserved for the superhuman dynamos who could do 15 fuete turns in a row, grand jetes like nobody’s busniess, had legs up to their ears, and were a size zero.

But I digress.  There is a reason ballerinas are not overweight.  One reason is because they have to jump.  A lot.  And jumping when you have 260 pounds on your frame is quite a challenge.  Doing it when you don’t have all that much plie’ in your legs, and making it look decent, and getting any sort of height, well, it’s pretty difficult.  But you know what, I did what I could tonight.  I pretty much have a mindset in these classes just to do the best I can.  I don’t expect much from myself and it is very freeing.  I can dance however I dance and not feel unworthy, or less than, or that because I wasn’t perfect that I’m a failure.  In fact, I surprised myself a few times tonight.  First, I got a compliment from the instructor on my frappe’s.  “Nice frappe’s!”  He said.  Second, I was able to complete the jump combination.  The last time I went to a class, I couldn’t complete the routine.  Third, the instructor told me I was a dancer at the end of the class and that I did very well.  Well, thanks!  It is unexpected and feels great but the best part is because I am expecting nothing I feel free to continue to go back and work at it as I can.  I have no expectations about becoming a ballerina  (nor do I want to get into those torture devices called pointe shoes again) – but I would like to strengthen my legs and core, lengthen my muscles, improve my turns, and improve my flexibility.  It is enough, where before no matter what I did, it was never enough.  This is a good thing.

This is a picture of an actual ballerina doing a grand jete

Maria Barroso - Coppelia, Swanilda-Prix de Lausanne 2010-2

By Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I guess I just transferred that to ballroom….

You see, I did take a few light lessons with Ivan this week.  By that I mean that there was little to no cardio involved because I was sick with the cold, congested, and that plus asthma means no jiving!  In any case, I just asked Ivan to review the basics.  I still feel like no one actually ever properly instructed me on how to do the basic steps in Rumba, Cha Cha, etc.  I mean, they have, but I still feel like there are aspects I’m deficient in.  I still feel like my hip needs to do something more or different, that I should be on better balance, that I should know the counts for everything back and forward.  In any case, it was great and I really enjoyed it, though I did have moments of thinking, “I will never get this!  I’m still working on the basics and I’m still deficient!”  But actually, I had an awareness around it.

What happened was this:  We were working on Cha Cha and I’m thinking, thinking, thinking, concentrating, caught up in the idea of what I’m supposed to be doing with my body.  I’m counting and doing it but then I feel kind of cheeky.  Ivan has been coaching me to use the front upper side of my ribcage and to move the upper body, not just the lower body.  Well, I’m trying to do this but in this moment of feeling the dance, feeling flirty or feminine or whatever, I’m just feeling it and the movement we’ve been working so hard to create naturally comes out.  Why?  Because I’m just dancing it, not thinking it and moving.  Ivan says, “Why you pay me for a lesson to teaching you how to doing this when you doing this so natural?!  You have to dancing with the feeling.  When you dance the feeling you moving so much better!”

In that moment, I felt and experienced what it is like to “let go.”  I had the experience of “holding” immediately prior to that, and the contrast was extreme.  It reminded me of this amazing post about letting go, what it really means.  Like the author of that post says, when I “let go” I was saying “yes” to the dance of life.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, dance is more than just dance.  It can be a transcendent experience.

Which reminds me….I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a show from Cirque du Soleil called Dralion this past week.  Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, it was absolutely amazing.  I saw about 2 hours of inhuman, impossible feats.  It was inspiring to see the human form complete all these amazing tasks.  Three acts were particularly mesmerizing for me.  The first was the first of the show.  It was a man in one of those metal orbs.  He basically did yoga on the spinning circular instrument.  It must have taken incredible strength to complete the routine and he made it look effortless as he seamlessly transitioned from one Herculean pose to another.  The man was so very lean I could see every muscle fiber.  It was truly awe-inspiring.

The second act that captivated me was the aerial silks.  This act involved a man and a woman doing contortionist moves while flying around on silks suspended from the ceiling and revolved around a story of a kiss.  The man was pursuing the woman to achieve the kiss and the performers captured the feeling of a Romeo and Juliet type love.  It was completely engrossing and beautiful.

The third act that I loved (well, I pretty much loved them all – there is nothing like seeing 50 Asians leap through metal circles only slightly larger than the circumference of their bodies) was also an aerial act.  It was a  woman in red doing acrobatics in a metal circle.  She was so gorgeous, her lines amazing, her transitions melting one into the next….and I got to thinking.  I’ve always thought it would be so amazing, even as a little girl, to fly around on one of those metal circles.  I’ve always daydreamed about being the girl on the spinning rope in the circus, up in the air, doing feats of strength and flexibility.

Listen, I’m in absolutely no shape to do this type of thing but it made me think that what a great big hairy seemingly-impossible goal it would be.  I want to get myself into good enough shape that I could go to an aerial skills class.  There is actually a studio here in Phoenix that provides such a class!  It’s possible!  I think it would be the most amazing thing ever to do it…my one friend Ivonne actually went to a class and she said it was super, super hard….I’ve no doubt about that!  But well, I think it is a great dream to have.  It’s way more motivating to me to think about being able to do something like this when I go to the gym because there is a purpose behind it, rather than just pushing around some weights or walking on the treadmill for the sake of just doing those activities.  Those activities don’t inspire me, but dancing, and the possibility of flying though the air, well, that is inspiring to me.  I used to love my jungle gym as a kid, and climbing the fig tree in our back yard.  I loved hanging upside down from one knee even though it was a bit scary from the very top of my jungle gym, and doing loops around one knee at bars at school.  I even learned how to climb a rope for P.E. one year after my dad rigged a practice rope from the gym!  I could do these things….I really could!

But for now, I’m fat ballerina jumping.  And, well, that’s okay.  Because you know what, I’m jumping.  I’m moving.  I’m letting go of all the stuff that’s been weighing me down and defying gravity anyways.  So there!  Pretty soon, through moving forward as SoulBlossomDance suggests in her post, I will be a less-fat ballerina jumping, then a pudgy ballerina jumping, then a healthy dancer dancing, and maybe even a strong, lean, aerial performer.  You just never know….