Life has a way of throwing us a curve ball when we least expect it. I've been saying lemons to lemonade to myself all month and it actually turned to lemons to Mike's Hard Lemonade (according to my darling friend Mel) as of last Wednesday....figuratively, of course, but man I've definitely been tempted to jump off the wagon and drink on my balcony in my bathrobe and nana slippers. As I've been coping from my life being turned upside down when it was on the up and up, I've been thinking about how I can create beauty amidst trial and a whole lotta of anger and sadness. You may have seen the graphic that I posted on my Instagram that showed the feet of a ballet dancer who had her point shoe on one foot and off on the other and and her foot is a bloody, curled up, taped up, mangled mess. The quote that goes along with it is about success and how some don't realize how much work it really is to be successful. That got me thinking. Then I found the stock photo above as I was preparing for some super awesome guest blog posts (BONUS!) and I decided to create my own version of the graphic with my own words. And let's be honest, who doesn't LOVE when the musings avec Ray get super deep. Come along on my twisted perspective that will have you thinking more about this photo than you ever expected.....
When I was little I was fascinated with ballet. I loved checking out books at the library about prima ballerinas and looking at the pictures of their beautiful costumes and those hunky men who lifted them in the air and helped them fly to the music. Given my genetic blessings I wasn't ever cut out for ballet and I've always said, "in my next life, I will be a prima ballerina and still eat pizza and chocolate." Now that I'm an adult and live in a state FULL of insanely talented artists, I enjoy attending productions by the Salt Lake Ballet Company, Ballet West, with my dear friend, Luci. I'm mesmerized by the amount of core support that these dancers have to have in order to perform day in and day out. Luci and I always sit in the balcony so that I can see the mechanics of the dances. I love the motion and the teamwork of the choreography. And of course I love the costumes. Luci not only encourages it, but she has taught me a boatload about ballet (that has a ring to it) because she herself is a retired ballerina. She danced through her second year of college and has shared all sorts of hilarious stories with me of see-though leotards and other silly things as well as some of the challenges she had as a dancer with her self image. In addition to Luci, I also have an incredible friend named Elisabeth who also danced ballet. Elisabeth is now a trained mental health professional and I felt like it was time to have these two women share their musings on the good, the bad and the learned from being a trained ballet dancer. I think that you will find that it was MUCH more about core strength of the heart and soul more than the ab and calf muscles at times.....I will let their words tell you, not mine. This will be a longer post than usual because I want you to read ALL their words so please carry on....
"The role of ballet training in my development was significant on so many levels. I was not pushed into this world - in fact, I wonder whether my parents would have preferred I choose a different path, one that might have come more naturally to me. While ballet technique hardly comes easily to anyone, I was anything but a natural when it came to technique. What I did have was a passion for performing. I loved being on stage. It was pure magic and stage presence did come easily to me. This presented me with quite a challenge. I was addicted to performing. I didn't believe I could live a fulfilling life without the chance to be on stage from time to time. What that meant was that there were many hours spent trying to work with the limitations of my body. It often didn't cooperate, but there was something about the familiarity of the routine and the structure that suited my personality. I worked hard. Working hard at things that don't come naturally - that you may never be as good at as the girl across the studio - builds character. At some point you realize that this is something you wouldn't choose to live without - frustrations, self-doubts, and all. Like so many things in life - relationships, careers, your very identity - with maturity you learn to embrace the good with the bad. I frequently encourage my patients to embrace this paradox - doing so can be incredibly liberating. I do not mean to suggest that the pain isn't very real. But in hindsight I have come to realize what a gift it is to experience that kind of passion, to live so fully. Some people never seem to have that all-consuming experience - and I am grateful to have had it, pain and all.
This is undoubtedly a gross over generalization, but ballet dancers are a unique breed. Typical characteristics that in many other contexts would be associated with good health outcomes: determination, self-discipline, passion can actually work against dancers as they manipulate their minds and bodies to reach an impossibly narrow definition of success. My experience as a ballet student was influenced by this paradox. On one hand, dance was one of the most defining elements that shaped my identity during childhood and adolescence. My years of dance training were fulfilling and meaningful and it gave me a focus that still, to this day, I appreciate having developed at such a young age. However, I felt a tremendous sense of shame and unworthiness because my body didn’t meet the aesthetic ideals. The tension between being so passionate about my pursuits and not meeting the aesthetic standards was pronounced. Looking back, I recognize that my experience was made up of equal parts inspiration and intense self-criticism. I know this dynamic was not unique to my experience. In fact, this reality seems to reflect a fundamental underlying issue for most dancers: the tension between their dedication and determination, and the self-criticism and loathing that develops if they do not fit the mold or fall short of the lofty ideals of the discipline.
15 years after taking my last ballet class, there are many things I do not miss. I am grateful that I no longer have to subject myself to my reflection in the mirror while wearing those unforgiving pink tights. I love the fact that I now can appreciate my body for all it can do - including bearing twins, and remaining healthy despite the fact that all too often I neglect it. I don't miss feeling as though I didn't measure up as I stood in that line of dancers. But every once in a while, as I sit across from a patient, I revel in the fact that I am now doing something that I can truly believe I am good at, without self -doubt. And then there are those moments when I am teaching or giving a presentation that I feel that same rush that I did when I was on stage. I may have traded in the ballet bun, but I now appreciate what it feels like to let my hair down, to be me, to have a kind of self-confidence that can only be born of staring self-doubt squarely in the face and surviving. Thriving, even."
Isn't she amazing!!???? Her brain thinks a lot like mine does (no surprise since she's an awesome therapist and my life changed with my awesome therapist) and when she sent this to me I got all sorts of choked up and teary as I read it on my phone. How can we apply this to our own life? The good with the bad, the blessed with the cursed? We are so freaking critical of ourselves, but there is a very fine line between letting ourselves be sad and laying down on the ground and being trampled on by the reality and negativity that could take over versus giving ourselves a good swift pep talk that includes a bit of strong words to "move on and let that shit GO."
I continually struggle with the media battle that rages on towards women and the expectation to be submissive, skinny and stupid. Ya, not any of those things and I'm damn proud of it. But, it doesn't make my life easy, in fact it has caused a substantial amount of turmoil in the last 7 days. But, the ability to dig DEEP and look at myself in the mirror and say "something better WILL come" is carrying me through. That is my core strength right now. That is what's keeping me upright and not a sloppy puddle on the floor. That's what gets me through the day, even when I do shed some tears of frustration or roll my eyes that I am in fact a housewife with no husband or kids and my house somehow looks like a tornado rolled through ten times. Tangent alert! We don't need to hear about my lack of housekeeping skills .... or lack of motivation to USE my housekeeping skills.....
Now let's hear from my dearest Luci friend about her struggles & triumphs in ballet world and how it molded her life:
And this is why I am SO grateful to have Luci as one of my very dearest friends. She and I have BOTH embraced our inner beauty in different ways and I too have morphed in to a woman who rarely wears a full face of make-up because I can see and feel my beauty without hiding behind the make-up. Don't get me wrong, I love wearing make-up, but I can go to the grocery store without it on and not be mortified if someone sees me without it. My cute daddy always told his daughters, "if I don't recognize you without your make-up, you're wearing too much." I sure love that man. He's totally right. In the next conversation though he'd also say, "even an old barn looks good with a fresh coat of paint." Ha ha ha, ok Dad.....thanks? But, you get my point. Accentuate the positive, but don't hide your beauty. And when you need to cry because you feel like you're going to lose your shit, do it. Cry, be angry, take a nap and then look at your beautiful self in the mirror and say, "this too shall pass, you are worth the wait and you will be ok....now go dance amidst your trial and be your own kind of beautiful."
The moral of the story: Keep working on your inner core, hold your head high when life gets hard and dance even when it hurts.
Until next time, my lovelies.