Back to the Barre



Perhaps it’s best to start with a letter. Dear Ballet, It’s been a long time. Too long.

Isn’t that what friends say to each other after a stretch of time and distance? But what to say to a friend after a twenty-seven year absence?

I was standing in brand-spanking new petal pink canvas ballet slippers. Hands on the barre, facing a mirror: my old friend. I’ve spent a lot of years away from this. I steel myself before class to be able to lift my eyes from my feet and confront the image of a grown woman. To try and recognize inside her the movements of my younger self, just a girl, really. To ask questions like parted friends would: What have you been up to? Where have you been? How have you lived?

I’ve lived.

Before I left ballet at 18 for college and boys I could feel my body in ways I haven’t since. Throughout high-school, ballet was the only way I felt alive. The only way I felt like myself as everyone else around me grew more adult than I was prepared to be. Ballet obviously, was magic.

Was it the pianist, an older lady in smart camel colored slacks and white blouse always un-tucked yet encouraged to sophistication by the cobalt blue scarf knotted loosely at her neck? Or was it Madame Binda, French aristocratic profile, long black wrap skirt, black tights and slippers holding her toy poodle as she swept around the room, kohl-rimmed eyes missing nothing? “Commencer, s’il vous plait!”

Which of these commanded my body to obey, recall plies, grand battements and hold attitudes with a faint smile that belied the concentration of the teeth?

In the mirror now is a reflection of years since. Years that I studied and completed college, birthed, fed and held children and through it started running through life faster and faster. The pace of it all: work, children, marriage,house, yard. Go, go go.

I went.

But something changed, something I noticed only recently. The more I hit the GO button, the slower I seemed to move. Perhaps it was time to go back, my body said. Go back to slow movements, practice, discipline. Feel music and muscle again.

I laughed when I put on the slippers. So much time has gone by, how will I recognize her? We are so changed now, the girl and the woman.

But a funny thing happened.

The girl told the woman the steps and the woman responded with the experience only time can give.

They danced.