The explanation of ballet's difficulty can be old and exhausting as it is frequently explained to those who could never understand. I like to think that I am secure enough in myself and my profession, despite having the awareness that others may never seem like a “real job” yet here I am, about to attempt to put this great love-hate relationship into words.
Ballet is not a sport, yet it is more than an art form. It requires one hundred percent commitment and dedication, not just inside the studio, but outside as well. It’s a lifestyle. Ballet requires the whole body as an instrument whereas most art forms require only one element of the body or an object outside of themselves. Musicians have their literal instrument whether it be a piano or a violin, vocalists have their voice, painters have their paint and their canvas, yet we have everything. There is no separation from the instrument, making the art both beautifully personal, and often painful when it is not well received.
As a dancer, we must take pristine care of ourselves not only in the form of self-care to nourish the soul, but also in the form that the illusion of perfection is not shattered. We must be hairless, except for our head, which despite wearing a bun for most of our career, must still remain at least shoulder length. We must be slender, but also strong enough to tackle some of the most physically demanding steps the human body can handle. We must be well-rested in order to recover our poor bodies after late, long nights of rehearsals and shows. We must stretch our limbs to extents that are not natural by design, but avoid injury at all costs. We must memorize full ballets and storylines lasting up to three hours, but above all, we must be willing to come into the studio every day with a readiness to learn and present not only ourselves but also, the rest of our tight-knit community with positivity and joy.
The craziest thing, however, is that we do it, and we love it.
For the practicing ballerina, they understand that ballet is something that pulls at every inch of your heart. No matter how many times this art may cause us to struggle, we cannot seem to let it go. Oftentimes, the relationship between the art form and the artist can seem like a toxic, one-sided relationship. I am not sure if the analogy is more pessimistic, or realistic, but I stand by my statement. Overtime however, we eventually learn to see the flaws as a greater part of a game, part of the world we live in, and part of the art we would so readily spend our lives chasing, even if we know that it could hurt us.
So why do we keep coming back to the studio? Are we addicted to the pain, and constant bruising of our egos? Do we only chase the things that seem unattainable? The payoffs of this career do not sound as though they outweigh all the physical and mental debt, and yet, despite all the change, one fact remains constant. We keep coming back.
A good dancer can accept the ups and downs of their profession, with the knowledge that it is just the world they live in. A great dancer can use the ups and downs of their profession as a tool to channel emotions into their work, and make them not only a better artist, but also a better person.
At the end of the day, aren’t we all just trying to be better versions of ourselves?
Ballet takes that idea, and puts it on steroids. While some people may see ballet and think of silk and pointe shoes, I believe the greater part of ballet is about self-betterment, and the processes in which we learn our bodies, how we work, and how to make ourselves look and feel free while inspiring others to find the same within themselves. Our short careers teach us that every moment is crucial, and reminds us to live each moment to the fullest. Ballet teaches us a kind of gratitude as we move our bodies and stretch our limbs with the knowledge that we will never be this young again, that this life is short, and that nothing is permanent.
It is a cycle of pain, progress, success, and sharing. It's an emotional rollercoaster we keep getting back in line for. Sometimes, there feels as though there is more pain than success, but that is only because it is easier to recognize when something goes poorly as opposed to when something goes well.
There are moments in this career, when everything may not be perfect, but everything feels pretty darn good. It may be during the final bow of performance when you know you gave it your all. The satisfaction of holding a balance for a long period of time, not batting an eyelash. When you pull out another pirouette when you were least expecting it. The rush of the lights, makeup, and costumes from backstage. The energy from the audience as you emerge from the wings. The experience of it all, the highs and the lows, are why I continue to do what I do, and why I love it so much.