Kansas City Meet-Up

I’m currently visiting Kansas, where most of my family lives, and as I lay on the bed in the upstairs bedroom of my favorite Aunt’s house, my muscles ache and my body feels so heavy from the past few days with some of the most incredible Ballet friends I’ve ever gotten the chance to meet. (Jana said it best #onaballethigh)

We began planning the trip a few months ago when I realized two of my favorite adult ballet instagrammers lived near my family. There was a vague thought amongst my sister and I to make a trip to Kansas sometime this summer, so we began planning it. As we did so, this absolutely incredible Ballet meet up opportunity also came to life in such an incredible way.

Joanna, Hannah, Jana, Kristin, and I were all able to meet up over the span of three days to hang out, get to know each other, talk all things Ballet and adult Ballet, hear of each other’s projects and endeavors, and endlessly quote Mean Girls. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.

It started Sunday night, when we all actually met for the first time at dinner. Even from the first moment, everything felt comfortable. I think it says a lot of the quality of these ladies character to be able to get in a group of five and every single one be able to blend so seamlessly together. Never before have I been in a group of such kind, selfless, down to earth people as I was these past few days.

Jana has a successful YouTube channel, which is already linked on my resources tab (ballerinas by night) and she vlogged the trip as well, so please subscribe if you want the behind the scenes footage of all the shenanigans we got into.

Monday, we began at Joanna’s house for an incredible brunch, as well as mutual obsession over her cat, Caspian, who deserves his own special shout out for being so adorable. (Check out her book, Cantique on her website or Amazon.) From there, we were able to go to Eleve Dancewear downtown. I had been to their store once before, but this was my first time since they moved to their new location. It’s quite a bit larger, with absolutely lovely aesthetics. Seeing the Dancewear up close and being able to feel it and try on the different styles was really nice, as well as so helpful. It’s nice to see that their colors are true to what you see online, so you know that what you’re seeing is really what you’re getting.

That afternoon, Jana (who, if you didn’t know, Also happens to be a pretty baller photographer) did a photo shoot with each of us, which truly was special.

I had a moment I wasn’t really expecting while shooting where I realized that this really was the end of this part of my life. That I’ll still keep my shoes and probably play around with them here and there, but as for dancing in them and for sure performing, that chapter is officially closed. I got kinda choked up about it, but thankfully didn’t cry in front of all my new friends. The dream of being on pointe is what drove me to actually push through all the fears and anxieties of being a beginner. It was the seemingly odd dream I was chasing that started me on a ride I never thought I’d even have the opportunity to do. I thought getting pointe shoes was dreaming big–I had no idea. So to know that these past 6.5 years of Ballet has lead me to do so much in such a short amount of time, and that the fueling part of that fire is now behind me, you get a bit choked up. I was a bit frustrated at myself because I think I still forget my body can’t do what it used to be able to, even just a year ago. I’m sure this will be an ongoing battle for a bit. But Jana was so warm and made me feel nothing but comfortable. I knew she knew what she was doing, and she was really good at instructing us on what corrections to make. I automatically trusted her words and judgement. And honestly, what better way to close out such an incredible chapter of my life than being given the unimaginable opportunity to be shot by someone so incredible? To document this beautiful part of my life, surrounded by what have quickly become some of my dearest friends? I couldn’t have asked for more.

I loved, Also, getting to see my friends get their pictures taken. I can’t really explain what it’s like. That certain muse of a thing that draws us to in Ballet, that feeling that begs us to dance, that subtle voice in the back of our heads that encourages us to dream–seeing that embodied as they put on tutus and skirts and pointe shoes, floating through movements, knowing that this moment was being frozen in time, it really was special to watch. We all learned so much about ourselves and this pursuit of Ballet, and I’m so grateful for it.

This morning we took a class at Kansas City Ballet. (!!!) It was the absolutely perfect way to cap off this entire adventure.

The teacher was warm, and clearly knowledgeable. (And also really loved rond de jambes) I appreciated how well she was able to read the room and give combinations, and also how she would look dancers in the eye with intention, making sure each of us were set and following.

I was more than nervous, going into a place that’s completely new. I never really know what to say to teachers about the long list of things that are wrong with me. I used to avoid it and just push through and hope it wouldn’t get in the way, but now I don’t have that option. I have to speak up. I’m not very good at that. Thankfully, Joanna was kind and let the teacher know about our meet up and in that told her that I would have to modify. The teacher was so chill about it all, it made all the anxiety I was feeling melt away.

Even before the first plie, I was so grateful to be there. This is another experience I never could have even dreamed of doing. As she gave us our first combination, I felt a rush of peace as I realized that Ballet is, essentially, the same anywhere. I could be completely surrounded by unfamiliar, my world caving in around me, but if I can just get myself to a class, or even if I can just do one by myself, all of that fades to the background and I find myself centered, at least for a moment.

I wasn’t sure going into it if I would try and do a modified center, or just sit it out completely. I had made myself push through and stay for a few classes at home to try and gauge where I was endurance-wise, but still going into it couldn’t really tell where I was. As soon as class began, I decided to do a full out barre and sit out center. I know my heart wanted to do the whole thing, but I had to be realistic and do what was best. The last thing I wanted to do was to push myself too far and do something I would regret later.

Sitting out center also gave me a unique advantage. I couldn’t help but peek glances at my friends during barre, but even then I was having to focus so hard to keep my brain the least foggy as possible that I didn’t really get to see them dancing. It was so cool to be able to watch these people I know through pictures or videos they post on social media come to life. The little quirks and nuances we each have coming to life and painting the picture of who they are in shades unique to them. The way they held their arms, the tilt of their heads, the extension of their fingers. It really was a sight to behold.

Having followed along with barre videos Jana has on her YouTube channel, it was a bit surreal actually doing barre with her. It made me deal an instant peace, like there was a familiarity in this old friend of mine I had literally just met two days before. Getting to watch her in center was like watching grace embodied. She floats with such elegant lines and intention, striving to do her best, but not letting the effort be visible except in her exceptional dancing. The class was full of typical prodigies and ex professionals, but still my eyes would draw to her in her group.

I was able to stand next to Hannah at the barre, which I was super grateful for. We were on a wall that had windows looking down into one of the summer intensive classes, which made the moment even more surreal. I had seen some videos of a variation Hannah is working on on her own, but to be able to see her in a class was really special. She dances with a kindness I don’t know how fully to describe. It was as though watching her dance made me feel as though that sense of comfort I come to the studio to find, especially when things are rough, had been embodied in her dancing. I appreciated it so much.

Kristin is one of those types that when you see her dance, you automatically pin her as a pro. Nailing multiple turns and executing jumps with great precision, it could seem like she was just another “one of those.” Except that she wasn’t. She has this subtle beauty that set her apart from “those” and made her a true joy to watch. She was attentive to corrections others may just shove off, and even when you think there’s no way it could be done better than she had done it, she’d implement the general correction and be even better still. It truly was mind blowing.

Watching Joanna, even for a fleeting moment, it’s clear she is the type that just gets it. Her lines are precise and elegant, which just dooms anything else she does to be absolutely incredible. I found myself wishing so badly I could have my camera to capture the moments she was creating, completely letting the music flow through her as she embodied every note the pianist struck. If you didn’t know she had only been dancing as long as she had, you’d never guess it. You’d think she’d been in this most of her life with the way her technique seems flawless. Watching her was like watching a fairy dance among flowers, or fog on the top of a lake at sunrise. Getting to know her, I know that she has such a truly beautiful soul, and I believe her dancing effortlessly expresses that.

I, myself, pushed myself in the moments I did have, hoping to soak up every bit of this opportunity I was given. I was sweating before we even finished plies, which I joke about but haven’t actually done in a while. The combinations were good and detailed, making me feel like I can actually implement corrections is been given in classes before. I didn’t get any direct corrections this class, but I did get a head nod at a balance I miraculously held longer than I ever had, but she wouldn’t know that. Maybe it was the inspiration of the people surrounding me, maybe it was the effort I was putting into executing the movements correctly, I don’t know, but this class left my heart feeling so full, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to have this entire experience with these girls.

I find myself feeling like I used to when Mom would pick me up from summer camp now that it’s over. I want to stay on this high a little longer, but I know that reality is already knocking on my door. My hope is that I can carry these days and what I’ve learned in them with me and use them to hopefully be a better version of myself in my every day life.

I definitely need to journal, as there’s much held in my heart from these past few days. So many beautiful moments I want to remember for years to come. I wish I had taken more pictures, but i feel that just shows how great the company truly was.

Here are a few anyway, as well as Polaroid shenanigans.

(Thank you, girls, for sending me group pictures as well as others. And thank you all for being so lovely and hilarious and just absolutely wonderful. I appreciate y’all more than I’ll ever have words for. ❤️)

(Why are you so obsessed with me? And filtered water.)

Nice things.

This week has been a particularly rough one health-wise.

Nothing extreme, but I over did it early in the week and have been dragging since Monday morning. I’m still getting used to the fact that being chronically fatigued is my reality and figuring out where my boundaries lie, but even in that every day is different from the next. You’re never quite sure what you’re gonna get. Still, you can be wise and stick to your limits. I’m still trying to find mine, and thought that I could add in a short walk once a week before the day gets really hot, but it turned out to be too much for me. I’m sad about this, since walking is where I see the most and best results overall, but I’m trying to accept it and be grateful for all the things I can still do.

I have added in water aerobics twice a week with my friend Krista, which had been absolutely wonderful. We’re the youngest be at least 30 years, but we’re in with a pretty good group this summer. The instructor we have right now is in high school still (or just graduated? Something like that) and is from Krista’s Church. She is such a sweet heart and really makes the class feel comfortable.

I quickly made friends with the 85-year-old in the class, Charlene, as we compared rheumatologist experiences and which canes we liked and why. Another lady also chimed in advice on my back, which I was grateful for. It’s nice to be around “my people,” even if they are grandparents and great grandparents. Being able to talk with someone about all of this who legitimately gets it because they’re going through the same thing, and also doesn’t talk to me like I’m a dainty youngin’ but rather an equal, it’s been really nice. I’m also super grateful to have Krista along for this ride. We’re CFS-ers together!

Although it’s been difficult to deal my butt to the studio some days, I love it. It’s more than worth it, and I know it’s not taking anything from me to teach, but rather helping me not just melt I to my bed and disappear there. I want to stay as active as I can for as long as I can, and being in an environment where I actually like to go every day is really wonderful. Not to mention the kids.

This summer I have really lucked out with some wonderful kids. I only have one class (out of 8 a week) that is a challenging, but even then they’re great if I have my assistants to help me out. (They’re life savers, I tell ya.) my 3-5 year olds are absolutely precious, having random bursts where they run up to me and hug my leg before they take their turn across the floor, faces beaming.

One of them today had missed a class or two. She came in a little late, so she missed the beginning where we all say our names. As she’s standing in line she asks, “what’s your name?” To which I say, “I’m Miss Emilee.” She replies, “Oh. Miss Emilee? This class is really fun. I like it a lot and I’m glad I’m here.” This is about the moment I became a liquid state and melted right there on the floor. She’s one of the older ones, and I’m always a bit concerned in the Summer dynamic that my 5 year olds will get bored being with so many 3 year olds. I was so glad to know that she was having a great time and it didn’t feel too “baby-ish” for her.

I have two sisters that I teach on Tuesday’s, one in my 3-5 and one in my 6-8. It’s their first time in Ballet, but they fell in love with the move Leap and asked to join Ballet. Their mom is a classics pianist and decided to sign them up. They are absolutely precious and have been soaking up everything I show them, which warms my heart as a teacher. This past Tuesday, the oldest was giving me a million hugs after class, asked her mom if she could take a picture of us, told me she wanted to print it out and frame it, and asked if I could come over to her house and dance ballet with her. I absolutely love kids and their unapologetic love that just spills out of them.

Another mom was in the foyer, watching her daughter dance in the class after mine. As I went to walk back to the office, she stopped me and thanked me for being such a positive influence on these kids. She told me how much it meant to her to see all the kids love me so much and how important it is for them to have someone like that in their lives and how rare it seems to be. She told me how she wished she had it growing up and hopes her daughter can have that. I asked if I teach her daughter and she said no and pointed her out to me in class. I thanked her so much for her words and told her how I didn’t really have that growing up either, and when I’d see flashes of it I clung to it. How I remember how it felt having it in those moments, and if I can be that to any one of these girls than that is success to me.

But really, as much as I’m told I inspire these kids and mean so much to them, they inspire me and mean so much to me. They’re my grounding. Knowing that I matter, even to these tiny humans, is the greatest honor in my life. It makes the days where I don’t want to get out of bed because I’ve found myself too far in the “dark place” worth trying just one more time. To have the opportunity to get to be surrounded by these little ones 5 days a week gives my life so much meaning. I’m beyond grateful, there aren’t even words.

Ballet has given me more than I ever could have hoped or expected. To think that I almost didn’t take that first class absolutely blows my mind. My life would be nothing like what it is. I don’t know what I would be doing now that I’ve gotten sick and had to quit my full time job. I wouldn’t have most of the friends I have, I wouldn’t know so many of the incredible people I know. I wouldn’t have gained the perspectives I have gained from meeting so many wonderful people from so many different places all over the world. I hate to even imagine my life without Ballet.

I am so grateful, I can’t say it enough. And every day I still get to step foot Into that studio is a day I cherish.

Also, side note, that Mom definitely didn’t have to say these nice things to me. She could have just kept it to herself. But she said them, and I can’t tell you what it means to hear them. If you think something nice about someone, even if they’re a stranger, say them. You may never know what it means to them to hear it.

Begin. (Again.)

Monday began the classes for our studio’s summer session.

I taught my first class of three to five year olds. There were thirteen of them. I was alone.
It could have been so much worse, honestly, but I did have quite a few “talkers” in the class, so it was a bit like herding cats. I didn’t get near as far in class as I would have liked, but all the kids did do all the things I asked, so I’m calling it a win. Towards the end, our studio owner came in to check on me. (There was a long line of parents registering their kids, many of whom were in my class, and she had been helping with that for most of the class time.) I only had eight kids registered ahead of time, giving myself the false sense of comfort that this class wouldn’t be too crazy. *Insert maniacal laughing here*

When our studio owner came in, she only had to corral a kid or two, and reiterate the “No talking” rule a few times. At the end of class, she looked at me and told me she was impressed with how I handled the class. She even commented on it again the next day to some of the other teachers that were there. It really made me feel good to hear that I was holding my own, even when it was quite a challenge.

The ME/CFS has been pretty intense here the past couple of weeks. I haven’t been sleeping well at night, which only exacerbates the problem. I had to be up early to put the house I was dog sitting at in order before leaving to the next house I am currently dog sitting at, then babysit for a couple hours before teaching. All of this on a long day the day before, and having not caught up from the previous weekend still. The kids really do help lift my spirits, even if they can be a bit challenging. It gives me the sense that I matter. That I’m still able to do something worthwhile with my life, even if it’s in a way I never expected. I’m so incredibly grateful to still be well enough to teach so many tiny nuggets, having even a brief brush stroke in the tapestry of their story. I hope it is a bright one in the grand picture of their life.

After I taught my class, I stayed so I could attend the Adult Ballet class. I haven’t been able to take an entire ballet class for over a year, so I wasn’t really expecting much. My hope was to get through barre and see how things went and go from there.

I was nervous, to say the least. So much has changed in the past year since I became sick. I’m nowhere near the level I was before I had to quit so abruptly. Even if, for some reason, the chronic fatigue went away, I still have the herniated disks in my back that are hitting nerves to consider. Thankfully, the class consisted of a few familiar faces, greeting me and letting me know how much they’ve missed me this past year. I’m sure I complained and explained more than anyone cared to hear. I tend to talk when I’m nervous, as though explaining things will somehow make it easier to handle. I still haven’t figured out why I do this, but recognizing it is the first step, right?

I noticed immediately the difference the herniated disks make in my dancing. Grand Battements were lower than 45 degrees on one side, and even that still caused some discomfort. Rond de jambes were a bit painful, and holding my core and thinking about turn out put pressure on muscles I had forgotten were so important, causing various joints to feel a bit of pain. I modified quite a bit, grateful that Ms. Munro knew about everything that was going on and that I didn’t have to be afraid that she would come and adjust me into a position my body can no longer make anymore.

Even as I felt all the twinges and tweaks of pain from this new version of my body I’m still accepting, I felt something I had missed more than there are words for. That all encompassing feeling when you know you’re doing everything you’ve been training to do the last however many years you’ve been dancing (6.5 for me, if you include the last year of not dancing.) You feel your body in alignment and know that your head is tilting where it needs to as you move, eyes following the line of the movement. It’s the feeling we all live for, the same one that can overcome us when we are on stage and really take in the moment of everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. This time, I wasn’t on stage. I was in the studio I have grown to know as my second home, surrounded by old friends and new, hearing my teacher call out the combinations as I held on to the same barre that has been there longer than I have. It was a moment I believe my soul has been longing for.

This past year has held more changes than I could have ever expected. Not only was I diagnosed with ME/CFS, I was also dropped by my doctor as a lost cause, unwilling to hear me out or dig deeper into what is causing all the other things that seem to line up with a diagnosis she wasn’t willing to give me (though she toed the line as close as she could.) I’ve had to try and sort out what this meant for my quality of life and what I needed to do to try and keep it from getting worse, with no help from medical professionals. A few months later, Hurricane Harvey came and barreled through my hometown, ten months post storm and my parents house still stands like a ruin, gutted and full of holes and mold, taunting us as we fight with insurance companies and contractors. It changed the entire demographic of everything familiar to me. Places I used to frequent just don’t exist anymore, friends that lived down the street just took the insurance pay out and left, starting over somewhere else. Landmarks and street signs and places that made the town feel familiar and safe were gone, some damaged beyond repair. Home looks different now. In all that, my illness became more severe, causing me to have to leave my good and steady job.

Life as I knew it is completely different now. The one thing that has been consistent is the dance studio, but even that has had to have some adjustment, simply because I’m not the person I used to be. I can’t do shows, so my weekend aren’t consumed with rehearsals like they used to be. I hardly see all the friends I’ve made in classes since I can’t attend anymore. Even the things that are familiar are different.

And even though dance as I know it is different, that feeling is still there, grounding me in ways I didn’t know were still possible.

To my surprise, my brain held up more than I was expecting. The fatigue was greatly evident, and my joints and muscles were protesting, but I was able to stay past barre, cautious though I was.

I still had to avoid any sort of petite allegro, and when we got to turns I realized it had been a solid year since I had done pirouettes, but I was there, I was able to participate.

This was the start of me beginning.

Again.

I know I more than likely won’t be able to continue into the school year, simply because the classes go later and it does take me about 40 minutes to drive home and the classes are on the nights before I’ll have to be up early. But it does make me feel good to know that it’s not something I have to fully give up on just yet. And honestly, even if my health still remains in decline, I think ballet is something that will remain in me, to some degree, even if it’s not as prominent as I would like.

I only ended up having to sit out the grand jete combination we did at the very end, which was such a pleasant surprise to me. My brain felt pretty cloudy afterwards, and my body was weak and sore already, but I wasn’t shaking like I had before. I didn’t have to sit around and wait before I felt like I could handle driving home. I had enough presence of mind to focus safely without worrying if I might do the odd sort of black out thing where I space so hard its as if I fell asleep with my eyes open.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling sufficiently exhausted from how much effort I used the day before, but in a weird way it also had a tinge of feeling rewarding. I’ll still have to find a balance, and realistically I’ll need to find other ways to stay active since ballet will more than likely be too exhaustive for me to keep up with as much as I’d like, but that’s okay. I still get to keep my toes in the water through teaching, which I am increasingly grateful for.

Since my chiropractor–the only medical professional to believe me to any degree–has let me know that becoming stagnant will cause my health to decrease more rapidly, I have done what I can to find ways to still remain mobile. I replaced my walking shoes that the hurricane claimed and have also signed up for a water aerobics class with my friend Krista, the first class being today. I could feel it in my bones, but I am hopeful for how much it will help strengthen everything that has been so neglected, and in a way that doesn’t cause as much strain on my joints. (Plus I’m so happy to have someone to do it with me.)

There are a few exciting things happening this month that I can’t wait to tell y’all about, so please stay tuned as they unfold and if you have instagram, follow there for updates on a giveaway that will be happening soon! If you’re a fellow dancer, you won’t want to miss this one.

Please appreciate this “Expectation vs. Reality photo set from class Monday 😂