After taking a six-months hiatus from ballet, I finally stepped into the studio again. Words cannot fully describe the excitement and joy bubbling from within me when I had donned myself in full ballet gear, placed my hand on the barre and started dancing with my ballet friends once again.
Six months ago I underwent a major abdominal surgery to remove a few large tumors that I had lived with for more than five years. I had put it off partly because of ballet. I didn’t want to and couldn’t stop going to class. I knew that a surgery like that would put me out of commission for what would seem like eternity. Those of you who do ballet would know exactly what I mean. Ballet is addictive, especially when you’re not forced into it for any reason. It can become an all-consuming passion, especially for those of us who do not find great fulfillment in our daily grind.
Well, I became obsessed with ballet about seven years ago when I was desperately searching for a way to get back into health after experiencing a frozen back. I asked myself, “What did I love when I was a kid, at an age when I had absolutely no health issues at all?” My answer was simple: to dance.
Even though most of my childhood was spent in learning modern dance, my first lesson was in ballet. I did it for two years, after which my parents probably couldn’t afford it so they sent me to free classes offered by my school. And those free classes were modern. But I didn’t care. It was fun. I enjoyed moving along with music, and sometimes without, as when I practiced gymnastics anywhere I could find enough space to do a somersault or a split.
Then I picked up ballet at the ripe age of 35. I fell in love with it and my passion only grew as time went by. Well, in those seven years I learned not just the technique but also artistry—neither of which I can claim to be good at, but at least I learned what they actually entail and have become much more appreciative when I watch ballet performances. Being a student of ballet has made me realize what kind of discipline and pain that professional dancers have to go through to present an effortless image of absolute beauty on stage.
Fast forward… after my surgery, I could not dance anymore for months. All I was able to do was to look at ballet photos and videos on the Internet, and read tons of articles and books about dancers. I also launched my FB page and wrote this blog more frequently. When I was able to, I went to a couple of local performances. Being an armchair dancer was not as fun as actually dancing, but it helped me deal with the itch.
Gradually, I lost that addiction for ballet. Maybe it’s a good thing. I found balance in my life once again. There was a period when I would practice for a competition seven days a week. I hardly had any time to talk with my husband, who had been super understanding and allowed me the luxury to pursue my dream. During my hiatus, I got to spend more time with my husband. Also, I lost the habit of being a perpetual pedantic critique of my “ballet self.” What I mean is that I stopped judging myself solely based on how well I dance and how good I look—according to the impossibly strict standard of the ballet world. The result of that judgment, of course, was always disappointing, as the ideal of ballet is sky high and my perfectionist self was never satisfied. A sort of self-loath developed subconsciously. A hobby that I was supposed to enjoy would sometimes turn into a nerve-wracking occasion. The more I wanted to achieve, the more strained my body was, and I got into injuries, which in turn put me out of commission from time to time. Any loss of time for catching up with my training was a source of stress. When I found myself going back to Square One and starting over again and again—while my peers moved on to more advanced classes, I became utterly frustrated, as it felt like I was never going to advance after a certain point.
The half year away from class helped me lose that “toxic love” for ballet. Today, I was back to the studio with an open heart. I didn’t realize the toxicity that plagued me before. But a pause put me into perspective. That’s why I said it was probably a good thing. Today, I felt relaxed in class. If I did something wrong or ugly, I caught myself laughing at me in the mirror right away! No big deal! And if my extension was super low, no sweat! What I tried to focus on, was the musicality aspect of dancing (artistry), and the use of the core (technique).
I learned something invaluable from my Pilates instructor during my rehabilitation period (which is ongoing). It is the use of the pelvic flour muscles. I didn’t realize it before, but if you hold your pelvic flour muscles and lift them up while exhaling—at the same time when the diaphragm is lifted up, the lower back naturally drops into a neutral position and the big gluteal muscles release their grip. Previously, I was in the habit of tensing those muscles up, causing the undesirable anterior pelvic tilt and super-tight psoas muscles in front of the hips. Even though I was well aware of my pelvic tilt, it was almost impossible for me to correct it due to the obstruction of my tumors. But now, I finally learned the way to correct the posture. Having a neutral pelvic tilt is so crucial for executing all ballet movements. When I tighten up the pelvic flour muscles, I find it much easier to activate my turn-out muscles and inner thigh muscles. It is not about contracting those muscles. The impetus has to come from deep within, and then those muscles would fire off much more easily. That’s the core at work!
So, instead of trying to force myself to get a fake turnout or high extensions at the expense of improper alignment, I decided to let them go. From now on I will focus on the ground work, the core, and let my movements come from the center first and then out. Most important of all, I will keep on reminding myself, joy will be my new “No. 1.”