The one scary part about having ballet as your passion as an adult is the fact that there is at least one mirror involved (and sometimes two or three, depending on the studio).
Don’t get me wrong, I know the dreaded mirror is a useful tool for a dancer. Mirrors show us if we have the proper line. They show us if our feet are shaped properly doing jetes or assemble’s during petite allegro, if our legs are straight when we’re doing an arabesque turn, or if the leg is bent when we’re doing a pique (a thing that makes my artistic director, Mr. O, cringe).
There are times when I look in the mirror and see how I’m dancing and I want to run and hide because of the imperfections that I spot.
But spotting the imperfections of my dancing isn’t the biggest reason I fear the mirror. I realize, dancing-wise, the image in the mirror helps me to become a better dancer.
The reason I fear the image in the mirror the most came through pretty clear during our experiment with floor-barre this past Saturday, where proper body alignment was a major focus of the class.
You often hear struggles with body image more associated with girls and women. As the father of a teenage daughter, I know how big of a struggle that can be. But I am one of the men who struggle with it to.
When you are the only person above 19 in the class, and the only non-company dancer, that image in the mirror can stick out like a sore thumb. There I felt I was the old fat guy trying to dance with a bunch of skinny teenagers (don’t get me wrong, many of the kids in the class don’t fit the negative thin stereotype ballet is known for. The teachers at our school, to their credit, put healthy eating habits at the top of the list).
I love ballet, can’t think of a life when I’m not dancing (even this spring break week when there is no class). But because of my struggle with body image, I’m still not entirely comfortable in my own skin.
Maybe that’s one of the things I miss most about being in a strictly adult class. When I first started dancing, I was in a class with a bunch of women who were near my age. We all struggled with imperfections. But I also realize I love the challenges of the classes I’m in now, and the opportunities I have now as a dancer.
I realize I won’t have the perfect ballet body. Even when I danced as a teenager I didn’t have that. Those six-pack abs the 19-year-old only other male dancer in this past Saturday’s class has, I know metabolism-wise, I probably won’t get there anymore.
But I want to get closer. I don’t want to fear the mirror as much as I do.