Like much of the world, I’ve been watching the Olympics when I can. Not as much as I’d like to since I don’t have the channels, but I’ve conveniently been dog-sitting at the opening and closing, so I’ve been able to catch a few of my favorite events.
I don’t remember watching all of figure skating before. And by that I mean all four of the final groupings. I don’t recall what programming was like growing up in the 90s, but this time I was able to watch from group 1 all the way to the end of the 4th and final group.
You see these skaters from all over the world, doing their best, handling the pressure in their own ways. Some fall victim to the lights and weight of expectation, disappointed–and often rightfully–when they don’t place higher, whether they were in the medal contention or not.
Then you see these skaters, going out there and doing their best, knowing that even if they’re in the top three for the moment they won’t stay there when it’s all said and done. And you see their scores come up, and they’re celebrating. Not because they’ll be getting a medal, but because they far surpassed their personal best records.
To them, that’s as good as gold.
And, no matter their placement, each and everyone can call themselves Olympians. No matter their placement on the final score sheet, no matter the color of medal or if there’s a medal at all, they all are still Olympians. They are all there, having that mutual experience in their own way.
I feel like these dancers in the ballet world. I’ll never be a dancer that’s known, I’ll never be pro, I’ll never be a “ballerina” in the technical sense of the term, but i am a ballet dancer. I get to have that title. I have my own experiences in this journey.
I’m here, I’m doing my best with the opportunities I’ve been given, and it’s my decision on whether I let myself feel crushed by the fact I’m not better or can’t be better or if I let myself celebrate my victories, my personal bests. Even if no one else is celebrating with me, will I choose to do this for me and what I can get out of it? Or will i let myself be bothered by if I fall short of where I feel I’m expected to be, or if I am never known, even locally, or if I just blend in as nothing spectacular.
Some of these kids are American, competing for other countries through heritage allowances. As Americans, they’d never even be seen, but going this other route they get an Olympic experience they wouldn’t otherwise have. And they’re out there, living their best lives, working their tails off, skating as though they were the greatest there, even if no one remembers them after the closing ceremony is broadcast.
I’m human. Emotions are things that exist and we all have to deal with them. It’s nice when they’re excited and happy emotions, but all too often they’re ones of sadness and disappointment, even anger. It’s my choice whether I let myself wallow in the negative emotions, or if I choose to enjoy this life I’ve been given and celebrate my victories as I achieve them.
I’m still adjusting to my reality that illness is part of my story. I think back on my accomplishments to this point and I smile.
I began. I took that step and faced my fears. I signed up for class and fumbled through until it started to make sense. I started taking more classes, practicing at home when I could, studying up on what terms meant and the technicality behind them to better understand. I started staying to watch the advanced classes. I pushed myself to earn pointe shoes after asking my teacher what to focus on to help me get there. I started working on understanding dancing ballet with this new apparatus strapped onto my feet, fumbling through and struggling to find shoes that worked for me. My studio closed, so I found another. Nervous as heck, I began again, adjusting to the new way of doing things and figuring out where I fit. I took class with kids half my age. I took a huge leap and auditioned for The Nutcracker. I danced my first pointe performance, even though I struggled. That spring, I did my first character and jazz dance in a performance. I never expected that. I continued on, doing Nutcracker and spring shows. I advanced into the highest level ballet class. I danced the role I set out to achieve, Lilac in Waltz of the Flowers–a role that most feel entitled to dance once they hit a certain level, but for me it was a crowning achievement. Even further, I danced in the highest level Ballet role in our spring show, another personal achievement.
I did all these things, I celebrated, I took the moment to appreciate where I was when I was there.
Now I try to find the grace to extend myself that those things, in just a year, have become an unachievable memory. I find enjoyment in being able to still be surrounded by the Ballet environment. To be involved in any way I can. That I get to teach. That I’m given roles I can do in shows, even if they’re nothing like what I used to do.
But this is my life. My story is being written every day. This is my reality, and I take it as it comes. It’s up to me to let emotions make me bitter that I’m not what I used to be, that I can’t fight to be better than I am anymore, or I can celebrate the little victories I achieve every day. They may not be victories the calibre of what they used to be, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of celebration.
Today, I choose to celebrate my ability to still be able to be in productions. To attend rehearsals, to be involved. To wear costumes and be on stage and be involved in something bigger than me.
My story isn’t finished just because I’m sick. I’m just writing a different chapter. Life handed me a plot twist I wasn’t expecting in the slightest. But the pen is still in my hand, and as long as there’s ink in it I’m going to keep writing.
Started ballet late October of 2011 at the age of 23.
Began pointe training late August of 2013.