My Non-Dancing Dream

"The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage" by Edgar Degas

“The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage” by Edgar Degas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

I had a dream last night, in which I saw myself standing in the dark wings of a theater stage, watching my adult ballet friends and a bunch of kids dressed in tutus rushing by, getting ready for a performance. There was an old lady watching over the dancers. She must have been the teacher. I was dressed in casual clothes and felt invisible, sidelined and useless. “When can I dance again?” I thought in silence.

Following that sequence in the dream, I saw myself sitting in a classroom attending a course. I realized it was Saturday–and there usually was a ballet class in the evening. But I heard myself thinking, “I’ll take it easy and skip the class.” Turned out there was no class scheduled after all, and I felt a sense of relief!

Well, I think this dream reflects my physical and mental state perfectly. In my heart I really long to dance and perform again, yet my body isn’t ready. I need to wait it out until the internal scars of my surgery have properly healed. Yes, I do feel a tiny bit of frustration, as I my limbs are stiff and my arabesque is only at a pitiable 25 degrees! But at the same time I also feel patient. I have never felt this patient before in my life. I trust the body’s self-healing ability and will let Nature do its marvelous work.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to dance in my head, and in my dream.

P.S. One night I actually dreamed of doing a super pirouette–10 turns and a perfect finish in 4th!

Advertisements

The Little Things…

Ballet Beautiful_Little Things

I really love this quote by Mary Helen Bowers of Ballet Beautiful, the trainer of Natalie Portman in the movie “Black Swan.”

“The little things you do every day impact the big picture and get you where you want to be.” ~ Ballet Beautiful

By the same token,  “The little thoughts you think every second impact who you are becoming and define your destiny.” ~Balletomanehk 芭蕾舞迷

Musings on Father’s Day

Louisa_dancing

On this Father’s Day, I am going to write about a special person who played the role of a father figure when my own father was drifting away from my life exactly five years ago.

It was 2009, and I was visiting New York to care for my father, who was diagnosed with a very severe cancer, acute lukemia. I made daily runs to the hospital, taking almost two hours each way on the subway. The period was marked by initial optimism, which turned into frustration, angst, despair and then a gradual loss of hope. Some days, not only did my dad have to fight for his life, but I also had to fight the hospital staff for proper treatment. At several junctions my father almost lost his life to incompetent medical doctors and students.

Needless to say, being the primary caretaker, my stress level went off the roof! Luckily I was able to sneak some time to attend ballet classes with the famous master teacher Finis Jhung at Alvin Ailey’s. Every time I went to class, it was like a refuge. A sacred time to empty my mind off the thoughts of the daily chores at the hospital. A time to enjoy music and movement and to learn something new.

Yours truly and Finis after a private class. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

Yours truly and Finis Jhung after a private class in New York, 2009. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

 

Unknowingly, I became dependent on Finis’ classes to take me off the drudgery—not only of caretaking but the inevitable fate of my father’s passing. It was like a drug for me, literally, but a good drug! And Finis, being a few years younger than my dad, was like a father figure to me. I marveled at his flexibility, his energy and his passion for teaching. He represented everything that was the opposite of my dying father.

So on this Father’s Day, which marks the 5th anniversary of my dad’s return to the Realm of Bliss, I want to remember not just my own father but to give a special thanks to Finis Jhung, who provided a refuge for me during one of the toughest periods of my life.

Thank you, Finis!

How Ballet Helped Cloud & Victory Owner Heal from Aneroxia

Min, owner of Cloud & Victory

Recently an article about how ballet has helped a young woman, Min, heal from her eating disorder, “Reverse Black Swan Syndrome,” has caught my attention. What she experienced goes against what is more commonly seen in the ballet world, where the pressure to perform and to achieve a perfectly slim body sometimes leads to, instead of heal, eating disorder.

Min is a Singaporean Chinese who went to study law in an Australian university but found the pressure to achieve to be a bit too much to manage. As a result, she fell into anorexic behavior. It is really interesting to read the journey she went through and how she found cure in ballet class and even became the owner of a successful ballet-inspired ethical clothing brand, Cloud & Victory, after she graduated.

Min stretching in a ballet studio

In some ways, her story reminds me of my years in a U.S. college where I started to binge eat due to the pressure to achieve and to get my English standard on par with native-English speakers. How would it be possible for a foreigner like me to be admitted to journalism school, when I didn’t even know what was funny when my fellow classmates cracked a joke, or when I made a silly mistake as my school-taught British English turned into something hilarious in the American context? There were so many books to read, such long papers to write, and so many new cultural impressions and shocks. I didn’t know I had any sort of eating disorder, despite boxes after boxes of chocolate chip cookies and cans after cans of soda pops that accompanied me through those all-nighters.

Come to think of it, ever since I was a kid, I had used snacking to deal with the pressure of studying. It was as if eating could help me to fill a gap in my soul, to fight the loneliness in the struggle to be the best in my environment. It helped me pass the long, long hours buried in the books. But it did not help raise my self-esteem, despite the good grades I eventually got.

I never went as far as becoming bulimic though. Sometimes I would have a tendency to watch everything I ate—such as during my last two years in high school when I tried to lose weight. It was hard on my body and my effort was totally wasted as soon as I entered college. In the first six months, I gained 20 pounds! My parents couldn’t even recognize me when I went home to visit during Christmas holiday.

Me at 18 (left) when I first arrived in the States and half a year later (right), after gaining the "Freshman 20"

Me at 18 (left) when I first arrived in the States and half a year later (right), after gaining the “Freshman 20”

Back and forth, back and forth… throughout my whole life I have struggled with my weight. It was actually my self-esteem that I struggled with. Despite the extrinsic achievements in my academic life—being always able to overcome difficulties and challenges to get to the top echelon—there was this insecurity about my self that had bugged me throughout my youth. I believe that this has to do with the mixed signals I received from my mother when I was a child. Whenever I got a good grade or an award, she would be really proud. Yet at the same time she always “bragged” to her friends in a false sense of humility that it was “nothing,” that I was “not good enough,” and she would make sure that I stayed humble and tried to do better the next time. So I guess I always felt that nothing I ever did was good enough. This feeling had lasted until quite recently, as even throughout my adult life, she has inadvertently transmitted the message that no matter how much and how well I do, it’s never going to be enough (Sounds familiar? Joy Luck Club, anyone?) I am glad that I have finally gotten over this feeling now. I finally understand, that it’s not about what I do, but who I am—and I don’t need her approval to be the unique person that I am. It is alright even if she does not understand.

In addition to my weight swings, I have also been experiencing bouts of deep depression multiple times in my life. The first time around, my parents dismissed it as a something that couldn’t possible happen to me since I did not have a good enough reason to get depressed. Huh? That did not help very much! Reading Min’s story made me envy her for having such supportive and understanding parents. They did not question her through her darkest days; instead, they just gave her unconditional support. I think that is so crucial in her healing process, as they provided her with a safe emotional environment to refocus her energy on creating a company based on her new-found passion, a passion that stemmed from what healed her—ballet.

As for me, ballet has healed me and hurt me in a million ways. When I have totally recovered from my surgery, I will ease into class and make sure I turn ballet into a source of joy and not a source of grief and tension. I will free myself from the harsh judgments of the mirror, from the silent comparison with my fellow beautiful and skinny adult students, from the strict demands for a “perfect ballet body,” and just allow myself to enjoy the pure essence of dancing!

Louisa_Ballet_Fat_Slim

Me when I first started learning ballet (left) and two years later, at my slimmest, weighting less than 100lbs (right). Now I have gained back what I lost but feel stronger and healthier.