What the Academy of Ballet Means to Me

20 years ago I was asked to be in the Nutcracker ballet by my older sister, who was a student in the Academy at the time. At 16 years of age I was pretty sure that I knew what it meant to be a ‘man’ and joining the ballet was not it, not even close. Well, in hind site I can tell you that I didn’t know much about anything at the age of 16, much less what it meant to be a man.

Fast forward to just over two years ago when a close friend asked me to be in the ballet with him. I reluctantly agreed (it was a bet actually, and he won, having the guts to give the ballet a try first). I was sheepish because it was something new, something that was totally out of my realm. It was perhaps even inconceivable to me at the time.

I don’t know what I expected to find in ballet, but what I did find was talent, combined with dedication. I found passion mixed with laughter. I found hard work and friendship and family. I found love and magic. And I found the time slip quickly away as we danced.

And all of these things I found were not limited to the confines of the ballet studio or the theater. These wonderful things leaked out from those walls and the magic seeped into me and I was changed forever.

So of all the things I may or may not have expected from ballet, I can say that I did not expect to feel this way. I did not expect to feel so at home with and connected to all of these people.

When you go to Paris, you expect to fall in love. You know the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral will not disappoint you. And there is always romance in the gardens outside the Louvre and in the cafes on Montmartre.

But when you’re a cave man and you are walking down the street on a sunny day, minding your own business, with nothing on your mind but the grocery list in your pocket and the curiously strong mint on your tongue and not forgetting to pick up the kids after school, and you slip and fall into a glacial crevasse, and when you finally reach the bottom your bald Neanderthal forehead hits the dense blue ice with a loud thud, and you are frozen, perfectly preserved, and awake 30,000 years later in a strange place and you find that you have fallen in love, that is the kind of unexpected realization that I’m talking about.

I fell in love. I fell in love with the ballet and with all of these human beings. I fell in love with rehearsals and trying out new moves to see what fits in what place just right. I fell in love with tossing these ballerinas around like rag-dolls and prancing around in my green tights like a forest-thug, and trying to cry for a moment while staring up into the lights while my entire family looks on in the darkness behind the glare, and with trying to scare the kiddies in the shadows on a promising December evening with my face painted like a Maori warrior. I fell in love and it was an effortless drop.

And I wonder silently to myself after each ballet if the next ballet could possibly be any better (or even just barely almost as fun) as the one that we just finished.

And when the evening sets in after that last show I try to remember what I liked doing before the last ballet began. And I stick my head in books and write some extra journal entries for a few weeks afterwords to make my little ballet withdrawals pass a little faster.

I share this with you because I want you to know how I feel about this gift you have given me. This gift you started giving us all so long ago.

I’m searching for the appropriate Ayn Rand quote, but I can’t find it, so I’ll give you what’s in my head instead…

Any great thing that was ever done began as an idea in the passionate mind of a creator.

We all have ideas and some of our ideas are good ones. But it is the passion and the will and the dedication and the energy of the creator that moves ideas into fruition and into greatness.

The earth trembles at your footsteps for you have shaped the earth with your bare hands. We mere mortals cover our faces at the site of you for you radiate with such brilliance. And everything else bows down low as you pass by for everything else knows that it has you to thank for the wonderful things in this world.

I am speaking of you.

I have known you for perhaps two years and I have found myself wondering if you are in fact an omnipotent being who is capable of being in more than one place at the same time. Or maybe there are a half dozen of you out there keeping track of all the sheep during rehearsals and tech. week and before, during, and after performances.

You respectfully spoil me like a wee baby when you apply my make-up, when you make my costume, when you sew green straps on my shoes, when you cover up my bald spots so the ladies in the balcony can have their fantasies complete, when you flatter me with your praises, and when you teach me how to properly handle the backspin of my pirouetting queen. I feel so special. Yet I know you do the same for every other dancer in the company. And I am so grateful.

And I hope when you find yourself in a large hall filled with so many adoring, familiar faces from so many places and years, who have traveled far and wide just to get a glimpse of you, that you feel the weight of their appreciation and their love and you know with absolute certainty that your life and your enthusiasm have made so many new flowers blossom. And that you caused a chain-reaction that continues to this day and that will continue long after you are gone.

And we secretly hope that at the apex of emotion during the evening that your tears will burst forth from behind the dam and that you will mutter quite loudly a few choice phrases in your native tongue, with at least one of the words being a Russian curse word.

Thank you for all the gifts you have given me. I will cherish them always.


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