Believe it or not, before contemporary dance took my heart, I was in love with ballet. I had found a safe space in the art. I ran to ballet when I was criticized for being too small or too skinny. But my first ever ballet class turned out to be the last one I took before ultimately choosing contemporary dance.
Ballet seemed perfect. I saw girls on TV who looked like me and I didn’t have to listen to anyone compare me to my sisters. All the girls I saw on TV were ‘skinny’ so I felt at peace knowing that I belonged somewhere. Even though, I couldn’t physically be with them cuz I had no access to classes, I felt like I was finally accepted.
After finding ballet and finally being comfortable, I danced on my own cuz I had no one to practice with and no one to teach me. I caught glimpses of ballerinas on TV from movies or TV shows and tried to imitate what I saw. I was alone till I met someone who was just like me. I immediately saw her as my teacher. She was self taught, still figuring her way through the art form. I was still a young girl then and I looked up to her in every way because she seemed to know more than I did. I indicated interest in ballet and she said she’d teach me.
There were five of us in class that day, apparently she was a big shot in the city I was in. I was so excited, I was in a real class with real people, finally. Then the class began. We were told to stand in first position. I did, and as she approached me to make some corrections, she said to me,
“Your butt is too big…”
Wait, what? Did she just say what I think she said?
“Sorry, what?”, I had to be sure.
“I said your butt is too big for ballet and you’re too busty, ballet is for skinny girls”,she was looking at me weirdly now, “and I need to see the perfect alignment when you squeeze your butt, but I’m seeing too many bumps along the line”.
This was a joke, right?…
“But I have a long tailbone that’s probably why you think my butt is big, it’s actually not…”, I was really squeezing in, trying to convince her that I was good enough for the class.
She stood beside me and pointed to the mirror, “I have a long tailbone too, but when I squeeze, you can actually see the perfect alignment. But you can squeeze all you want but you still look like you’re not doing anything”.
She wasn’t wrong though, there was no difference when I squeezed.
She turned away from me and faced another girl, “you’ve started growing fat oh” she was grabbing her tummy, “you should know that ballet is not for fat people”, she sounded so condescending, I wanted to tell her off.
“I know”, the girl replied, “I’ll work on it”.
I really wanted to walk out of that class, but somehow I couldn’t. I stayed and listened to every word she said about my body. My shoulders seemed to bother her. Too broad, she said. In short, I was too muscular for ballet.
Too muscular for ballet? So where do I actually fit in? Maybe I shouldn’t be a dancer… I should just focus on trying to gain more weight and be accepted as a normal looking lady…
That was it for ballet…I got home and never danced again…A few weeks later, I watched Save The Last Dance again and somehow, the lady’s comments kept popping up. Maybe I was too big, maybe I wasn’t good enough for ballet…Too small for society, too big for ballet. I didn’t fit in anywhere…
N.B: I would like to say that in this present day, the world is filled with beautiful ballerinas that come in different shapes and sizes defying that unrealistic goal that only serves on body type…