I intended to write this post last month, but after 3.5 years of avoiding it covid hit me. I did better than I expected with it, for which i’m incredibly grateful and recognize my privilege in that. I think the avoidance for so long helped me personally so it was more mutated by the time I actually got it, but I know for some people that doesn’t matter. what a difficult time to live in and navigate.
In the in between of Nutcracker and auditions for Spring Show, I didn’t see many people, but a few people came by for various things. One raffle prize winner has a granddaughter that dances with us. When she arrived to pick up her prize, we got into conversation about the productions and the discipline that goes into it as well as the magic. I asked if she had ever been in the studio, she said only to drop her granddaughter off. I offered her a tour which she gladly accepted.
From the foyer of our studio, you walk through a costume room with tutus and character dresses and rat heads hanging from the ceiling and carefully stacked. Many times the dancers walk passed it without a second thought, used to the sight of of the stacks of fabric they pass by week after week, some pausing to comment on what animal they were as 7 year olds or the seemingly endless years of villager roles, but most rushing past to the studio without a second thought.
This lady gasped; she was in complete awe of the vastness of it. I pointed out a few costumes from recent ballets, talked about the fire we had in the 1990s and showed some of the costumes that survived that we still use and which ones we got from Louisville Ballet after that have held up so well over the last 30 years of constant use with who knows how many years of use before that.
From there I walked her through the break room and showed her the studio. A room we are so familiar with its easy to forget how impressive it is. A converted warehouse, there’s a weight-bearing support structure in the middle of the front of the floor, one each dancer is all too familiar with avoiding while rehearsing and having to adjust to its absence when we’re on stage.
There’s a wall of thick cubed windows, made in a way you can’t see through them but allow a beautiful amount of natural light to come in, and a back wall of mirrors with curtains pulled back and tucked behind the barres when not in use. The lady was so impressed, speaking to how awe inspiring it was to see the place where we work in the lead up to performances. We talked about the process and how things translate from there to stage, seeing the light in her eyes bringing a smile to my face.
It truly is magic.
It’s easy to forget when it’s something you’re so closely involved in, something you’re so used to dedicating so much of your time to, something you experience so often. If we allow ourselves to take a step back and notice the magic flowing all around us, remember the first time we were involved, remember how we felt the first time we put on a tutu, remember our excitement with goals we achieved—remember the magic—we can bring a little bit of that with us and translate it onto the stage. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize how incredibly lucky and privileged we are to be involved in something like this at all, and for us specifically at our studio to be under the tutelage of such a legendary teacher.
Of course, there will be downs along with the ups, and there is cause to feel and process the not-so-magical parts of this world. There’s disappointment and difficulty and long, long days. There are things completely out of our control and things that feel personal but aren’t, some I remember all too well (aye swifties) from my own experiences. However, the conclusion I came to is I dance for me. Ballet is what I make it. For some people, that includes a change of some form, a move, an adjustment, a program elsewhere than their home studio, a shake up in their routine. For others, it’s a mentality shift, a step back, a perspective change.
What you bring to ballet is your legacy to it. And if you bring your best, if you work hard, if you do it for you, that’s a beautiful legacy to leave, and you should be proud of yourself on that.
Today as I go back to the studio for rehearsals, sitting at my desk in the office and flitting back and forth from the studio for various tasks, i’ll choose to remember the magic, to hold the memories of the days when my body let me move freely close, and appreciate the privilege it is to have involvement still even with my limitations.
I had every intent of making posts far more regularly, however life had other plans.
Still, I want to make sure I get this post written before opening weekend when I’m sure to have far more stories to tell that will make the details of these begin to fade, and I want to make sure I remember them.
A few days after I officially returned, we got a really heavy rain which for our old building means a bit of flooding and internet issues. Usually, we’re out a day, maybe two, and then back up and running. This time, that wasn’t the case. When we called our provider they informed us the underground cable had to be completely replaced and they didn’t have a timeline for when that might be completed. Their best suggestion was to get a hot spot.
I had come in to the office that Monday, October 31, to send an email reminding of the Ad due date that weekend. The rain happened the next day, Tuesday, November 1. We found out Friday that they would have to replace the cable and began the scramble to find work-arounds until we could get back up and running.
And it wasn’t just internet that was out. We didn’t have access to our phones, we couldn’t print tickets, couldn’t run payments, and our printer works off WiFi, so we couldn’t send anything to print. We did have a backup that’s supposed to work even in extreme cases like hurricanes, but it didn’t work either.
First order of business was figuring out how to endure the weekend. Thankfully, I had copies of all of the forms we would need for the weekend already printed, and our printer still functioned as a copier, so I made a bunch of copies of each of the forms to help fill the gap of everything we couldn’t access. When the weekend arrived, it was full of apologies, while offering the temporary fixes which usually did the trick. The hiccup was the fact I had missed changing the date on one of the forms we sent out for when the Ads were due and didn’t know until that weekend. We, of course, accepted them when that incorrect date said since that was my mistake, but most were able to get them in by the 4th anyway, which was helpful, and the ones who couldn’t we knew to be expecting so we could leave the size space for them.
After we got through rehearsal weekend, we got a hotspot hooked up and I came in Monday to get as much caught up as possible from the weekend. During rehearsals, I usually don’t come in Mondays or Tuesdays since I’m there through the weekends, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I believe between the two jobs I work, that week I put in 75 hours. And after the first day of using the hotspot, it stopped working for some reason, so I used the one on my phone, which wasn’t my idea. My brain seemed to short circuit through all of this, but thankfully someone suggested it and it worked. One of the dance moms, Jackie, found a way to use the backup thing so the printer could scan to the computer even if it couldn’t print, which saved my butt with the Ads as we scan in many of them and send them over.
Then, I reached out via email to our ticketing liaison, Jeff, who is a legend. He got us set up at the actual box office so we could print tickets, which my friend Nicole powered through and got caught up so quickly it was incredible. She also had us caught up up until this outage fiasco, so we weren’t behind to start with, which was nice. The only thing we couldn’t find a work around for was the phones, so those just had to wait. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do.
We were out of commission, using these patches for three weeks before it came up. They never notified us, I just happened to notice once that my hotspot wasn’t on but I could see the emails, looked at our internet tower thing and saw the green lights all on. A glorious day.
When I went to check the voicemails, we had 86. I wrote them all down and called back the ones who hadn’t emailed, getting hold of most of the people who we had missed. Thankfully, ballet patrons here are lovely and were completely understanding of our delay, most just happy to hear back from someone. I don’t like making phone calls, but obviously it’s part of the job. It’s made a little easier knowing what I’m talking about so I mentally prepare myself and hope for the best. Take that, anxiety.
In all of this, we have gotten the ads in and program produced, ticket orders in and printed, school shows reserved and seats assigned, raffle tickets logged and submitted, questions answered and studio running. Now, I’m thankfully at the point where it’s the lead up to opening weekend and I’m caught up, having double checked everything I had marked on emails while things were clunky to go back and make sure I didn’t miss anything. I’m going to triple check this week, just in case, but I don’t have as much on my plate as I expected. It appears as though we are through the worst of it and now its mostly just normal office management things I have on my to do list.
I have found the busier I am, the more difficult it becomes to manage my physical and mental health. During the covid shutdowns, I was seeing a psychologist (ironic timing) and diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, PTSD, Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, and depression, though I have a good handle on them most days. This was the real first test in that and it yielded interesting results. About two of the three weeks of the internet outage, I found myself really struggling, having to pull myself out of mental spirals and fight compulsions in ways I hadn’t experienced since before I knew what these things were and how they happened. Truly, had it not been for friends, I’d be a lot more worse for wear, the biggest hurdle being actually letting anyone in and admitting I wasn’t okay. I struggle with the balance of what I show to whom still, since most of the time it is easier in the long run not to admit when I’m struggling as it leads to more exhausting explanations and situations than just pretending I’m fine and figuring it out later when I’m home and alone. But here, I have been blown away.
Ballet has been my safe space since I first dared to take up classes at the age of 23, eleven (!!) years ago this past October. It’s been where I’ve gone to process my grief and trauma, giving myself the hour or two to leave everything out the door and reset, allowing myself a clearer head to process it all through. From car wrecks to friends deaths to everything in between, the studio is where I’ve gone. This, of course, became extremely complicated to navigate when I found myself too sick to continue anymore, and I clung to teaching until I physically couldn’t handle it anymore, which is also ironically when the world shut down. Honestly, having had to scale back so much in doses helped me handle the changes covid brought as I didn’t lose everything all at once as so many did; I had been processing each loss slowly as they came and was already mentally preparing for the final loss of giving up teaching when covid took it from me prematurely. Still, that’s only one loss of ballet instead of many at once. And now I find myself back in this place I have loved for so long, that has offered me safety and comfort in uncertainty, where I’ve met lovely people and carved a space for myself, but I’m here in new ways I never expected.
I thought coming into this that I knew what to expect, and work wise, I’d say my assumptions were spot on. What I didn’t expect was the onslaught of kindness I have experienced. Compliments literally every day, from so many different types of peopled–dance moms, dancers, board members, the public, even from our studio owners/artistic directs–and often. I’m so used to working and being in spaces where my kindness is used and abused, where I’m only important if people can get something from me, and once I’m out of sight I’m completely out of mind. I’m not a pushover–I’ve learned over the years not to be–however I’ve been in many work and volunteer spaces where I struggled to feel like I belonged or was seen. I was invisible, out of sight out of mind, only considered when they had some role that needed filled and not in ways that benefited me but instead drained me or requiring me to do things I was clueless about with little to no training and zero support.
I’ve told Ms. Munro how I didn’t realize that the way many of my superiors had treated me throughout my life wasn’t the way I should be treated until I came to teach at the studio. I was paid fairly, never forced or pressured to do things I couldn’t or wasn’t comfortable doing, and was considered in every decision that involved me. As my health declined, they accommodated that, and still do, making sure I have enough volunteers to help me take on the task of running the ballet office during Nutcracker season, checking in on me throughout. It’s taught me what I deserve, and to not accept anything less, which has set me up to take big risks with jobs that have lead to me being taken care of in my places of employment, with so little stress and zero fear; a stark contrast to some previous experiences. As a whole, I’m better for it.
And as if that isn’t enough, then you have the dance parents. We’ve all heard horror stories of dance moms, being divas and demanding and treating people terribly, but on the whole I have found the complete opposite. They thank me and compliment me, something I’m not used to. I go full awkward potato about 87% of the time I’m there because I don’t quite know what to do with compliments. I’ve finally got saying, “thank you” down, but I haven’t quite broken my compulsion of feeling I need to explain that I’m actually not that great. I’m trying.
Not only are these moms expressing their gratitude with words, but some even go as far as to bring me food and gifts and hand written cards, which are my personal brand of love language. Handwriting something tangible is an enduring and personal expression, so deeply “you,” and something I cherish and keep forever. It’s all so kind. Some of the mom’s have offered to help me, volunteering where they can, being a listening ear, offering solutions in the chaos, and some just meeting needs without me even asking. Truly, without them I wouldn’t have made it through this season. I’m eternally grateful and completely moved by their kindness.
It’s also been really nice getting to know some of the dance moms. For so long, I’ve been “friends with the kids” and most of the moms I knew had moved away and a majority of them I knew their kids better. It’s a weird dynamic since I am an adult, but truly to most of the kids I’m more of a bonus aunt or something, which is nice. But now, I’ve been becoming friends with the moms and its nice to be around people more my age, and not being the oldest for once. Its as though I feel a weight lifted by being around people older than me again, even if our life paths aren’t the same. They don’t look down on me for that, they accept it no questions, which I didn’t realize wasn’t always the case before until I was here and can see the difference.
The exhaustion of the season is definitely kicking in, and I’m sure when it’s all said and done I’ll have a little mini crash of sorts, though it will likely be more emotional than physical. I’m so grateful to get to be a part of this community and this ballet company, to be surrounded by such incredible and supportive people, to be making these memories and filling the story of my life with tales I will want to retell and, a bonus, ones that aren’t full of sadness as so much of my life seems to be. (so dramatic, I know.)
Here we go; ready or not, it’s show week, and I for one am thrilled.
My favorite movie has long been Uptown Girls, and when I tell people that most haven’t even heard it; but I stand by it. Even when it comes to a point I haven’t seen it in a while and I think to myself, “surely my love for this movie has waned a bit,” I’ll revisit in and sure enough in near tears and covered in goosebumps. Why? I don’t know if I could really tell you, but the fact remains.
Recently it has seemed to hold an additional meaning I never could have expected, on that is encompassed in the last line “Ray” says, which is where the title of this post comes from:
“Every ending is just a new beginning.”
When I wrote my last blog post, the world was a different place, let alone me being a different person. It was December 2019, most people hadn’t even heard of Covid-19, let alone had a clue what that would hold for our world as a whole–the loss, the fear, the confusion, the solitude, the suffering–and even in that, the positive things like the connections that were formed out of necessity and how many people started realizing the importance of caring for your fellow human. For me personally, it has meant a bit more research into the disease that has taken over my life from a post viral infection of the Epstein Barr Virus I got from the chicken pox I was intentionally exposed to as a child to “get it over with” which reactivated in me as an adult and is what has dictated much of my life since, including having to give up dancing ballet; something I had long fought for.
Of course in that, there are personal frustrations this pandemic has brought me, as well as continued fears for my safety as my health conditions aren’t fully understood. I’m not allowed to get a flu vaccine, does that mean I can’t get a covid vaccine? Do I have a weakened or heightened immune system? What will happen to me if I get covid, seeing as I live with the chicken pox equivalent of “long covid” as it is. I’ve made it this far, at times with near misses to direct exposure, without getting covid for which I am extremely grateful.
I didn’t get to have my last recital with my dancers as covid required many shut downs at the beginning, which included our ballet’s performances. I believe it was absolutely the right decision to keep people safe. It also was an inevitable one that left me feeling as though my close of this chapter of my life was one that ended more abruptly than I could have hoped–because it was. I still wrote notes to all my dancers and put them with their costumes to have when they picked up and hoped I’d have the opportunity to see them one day in the uncertain future. I had just told our artistic director the week before we shut down that I would for sure not be able to return to teaching, and was going to tell my students parents when we returned from spring break, but we never did.
I know it was the right decision for me, as teaching the next year, even with the safety precautions, would have been too big of a risk for me than I could afford to take. At least I was prepared mentally for that year to be my last, rather than having it forced upon me by a global pandemic. It helped ease the sting of ending this thing I love so dearly a smidge.
As it stood, I wasn’t sure if I would come back for Party Scene in The Nutcracker or not; so much of it would depend on things no one could predict until we got closer. Then, in August of 2020, our beloved Drosselmeyer passed away of a stroke. My heart shattered. He was the heartbeat of our production, having done the role for the past 27 years, I believe, and still every performance was as magical as if it were the first time seeing it. I was devastated, his passing was such an unexpected thing in a world that was already so inundated with uncertainty. I swore I couldn’t do a Nutcracker without him–it would hurt too much; and, after all, I had already lost so much in the ballet world. I didn’t think I could face it.
I was dog sitting for one of my favorite ballet families. They returned home shortly before auditions, and I needed to drop something off to or pick something up from them, I can’t remember which. The easiest way to do this would be to meet them at the ballet building on audition day. I was nervous; I hadn’t seen so many of these people I loved since the world shut down. I didn’t know how my emotions could cope with it all. I walk in and two of my favorites, one of whom was the last of the original group of girls I danced with when I started at this studio and danced with the Corps, came up to me as soon as they saw me. They hugged me and asked, “are you doing Nutcracker this year?” and I looked at them, and I felt the love in that room, and I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
In that moment, Catherine and Macey reminded me of what a beautiful place the ballet is, that being there is exactly where I would need to be and especially in a time of such a loss we all felt so deeply. I decided then that yes, I would do Party Scene again, and began to fill with hope at the predictability of it as I was surrounded by other people who had also survived this pandemic so far and also grieved the loss of our beloved Xavier and also were filled with such gratitude to just be there doing the thing we loved. I told Mrs. Alex, our artistic director, to count me in for this year. She was elated which made me feel even better.
So often I have struggled with feeling like I belong anywhere. I’ve felt that, even when I give everything I have to give and try my best to offer everything I’m able to an experience, there still isn’t a place for me. Somehow, I’m seen just for what I can do for the place/situation/group/et cetera, and not for who I am as a person. I feel replaceable from the start; which of course everyone is replaceable, we all have to be, if not the world would not endure and that would be the end of it. But there’s something magical about when you find a place that gives back to you as much as you put in, and for a bit I wondered if the ballet would finally be that for me. It’s been my most enduring “relationship” to date and left me feeling so fulfilled in ways I’d searched for in so many places that always came up short or left me with enough stories to make my therapist cry when I recount them. And as soon as I was sure I had finally found my place, it was taken from me by the cruelty of chronic illness, and once again I’m back at square one trying to find something in this world that doesn’t make me feel like I solely exist in the world to fill needs for other people, screw what I may need, right?
I gave it up. I said my goodbyes. I left it all, save for the one private lesson I taught by zoom during covid because I’m extremely stubborn and it helped me feel like I had a purpose; that all those years of fighting wasn’t wasted, and I’d hold on as long as I could. She was old enough to be instructed just by explaining so I wasn’t worn out from showing all the different things. I made peace with the fact that life isn’t fair and no matter how hard we try, we really don’t have control over anything, even if we’re stubborn, even if we hold on with a vice grip–life doesn’t care. There’s no quota of loss you somehow reach and then have sunshine and roses forever. You can always lose more; this fact weighed heavily on me, and I sat with it and came to a point of acceptance.
During the shutdowns, my herniated disks in my lower back became unstable and hit my nerve, causing immense pain. I had to wait seven months to get in to see the doctor since I was new to insurance (bless my former boss who fought for me to be a permanent position and to have two extra hours so I could get benefits, including insurance–this kicked in February 2020.) and as soon as we got the MRI he referred me to an orthopedic specialist. Getting scheduled for surgery took another two months, and I was nervous because I’ve been told by doctors and friends and precious old ladies at water aerobics that doctors here make things worse rather than better for back hernias. I took a risk, seeing as I can’t afford, financially and physically, to travel and ended up with a wonderful competent Doctor who didn’t even have to take the whole disk and was determined not to put hardware into my back, which I appreciate. Of course, this would mean if I hadn’t already given up dance I would have had to, which I’m not surprised about. I also found out I have scoliosis, which makes things make a lot of sense. We’ve also done MRI’s on my shoulder and I’m told it’s sprained. All the issues I was having are still around, and it started from taking off my jacket incorrectly which dislocated my shoulder and put it back in, irritating all the ligaments or whatever it is in my shoulder. Of course, this is aggravated by port de bras and everything else vital to ballet. Between the two, even just doing a simple barre myself is risky and likely to make things worse.
While I haven’t been formally diagnosed by a doctor, a good friend of mine, Krista, showed me how you can take your raw data from Ancestry DNA and search for EDS markers in it to see if you have EDS. I figured it was worth a shot before paying for genetic testing, and I wrote down the markers I had. Dear reader, it would have been easier to write down the markers I didn’t have, and I have found I actually have three different types: Classical Type, Kyphoscoliotic Type, and Dermatosparaxis Type. I do still need to get formally tested, but that requires energy and money and time I do not currently have. I feel satisfied in this for now, though I do hope to one day further pursue formal diagnosis. My current Primary Care doctor has told me he is open to referring me to anywhere I want to go for it, so that is on the table, which I’m grateful for. All of this would also mean that my stomach issues this whole time have been due to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome–basically your body is sensitive to histamines and treats certain foods as allergens. I had found this at the suggestion of someone in a support group I’m in on Facebook and tried out the FODMAP way of eating to see if it would help and, wouldn’t you know it? I can go days, weeks, even months without getting sick. I wish I had known this before my gallbladder came out. I wish many things, but especially that as it seems to have been the source of many of my issues, possibly including the re-occurance of EBV, leading to my ME/CFS (the fatigue bit.) If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you’ll know just how life changing all of this information is for me. I have been able to learn how to eat in ways that don’t cause me stress, though I’ll forever have disordered eating to a degree. I’ve also, during the shut down, seen a lovely local Psychologist and been diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and Sensory Processing Disorder, which made my life make a lot of sense and thus gave me the ability to extend myself grace in all these places I was told I was “wrong” or needed to “fix.”
To say it’s been a life altering few years would be an understatement.
Now that I’ve said all that, why the heck am I posting a blog post? We thought I was done with this, right?
I thought the same, however, back in August I was doing one of my private lessons. We moved it in person, as schedule and safety finally allowed it and my sweet nugget has gotten her pointe shoes. (cue tears because time is wild.) While there, Ms. Munro–our Artistic Director and studio owner–was in the office of the teaching studio we were using since it was registration time for classes. She pops her head out and asks if I’m sure I’m not able to teach any classes. I confirm that I’m just not physically able to commit to that as it’s too much for me to handle. She asks how my job is treating me and I tell her it’s going well and I have been able to find a good balance on maintaining my energy levels and everything. She’s pleased to hear it, which makes me feel good.
The next day I get a call from our ballet board president, offering me a part time gig at the company studio working in the office. I listened to her describe some of the responsibilities I would have, all things I could hear and understand immediately on what would need to be done. She told me to think about it over the weekend and get back to her Monday, but that she thought I would be a perfect fit if I wanted to join.
I was shocked. I sat on my friends couch, as I was dog sitting, and thought it through, evaluating my energy levels and if I could take on an extra 20 hours a week on top of my 30 at the court house. I thought through all the possible scenarios I could come up with, people I would be working with and for, potential stress triggers, et cetera, then I called a good friend of mine and asked her to tell me honestly if she thought I could handle it.
On Monday, I called and let them know I was interested, and I started the next week. It’s been two full months and so far the worst thing I’ve messed up is forgetting to attach a document on an email–in other words, it’s going great.
TL;DR, in a wild turn of events, I have found myself back in the ballet world in the most perfect way for me. I’m thrilled and loving it and will be back to the blog, writing about my adventures from this side of things. My hands have been shaking typing this, whether out of nerves or excitement I’m not entirely sure. So much has changed and yet so much remains.
If you’re a nosey-nancy and wondering if I will be dishing out deep dark secrets of behind the scenes things I’m privy to–that’s a hard no. Find that gossip elsewhere because it won’t be here. But if you’d like to read about my adventures and experiences and the good feelings I’ve had so far, please do stick around.
I’m excited to have a reason to be posting again, as I have missed you all so dearly. Thank you for coming back and coming along for this new ride. I look forward to sharing it with you ❤
In the words of Taylor Swift, lets watch it begin again.