Ballet is an amazing powerful practice; I started taking classes as an adult, few years back by mistake. Little did I know, ballet would become my safe place, where I would find inner peace and so much more. I now recognise in my ballet journey universal patterns and laws and big truths about life. Sounds crazy, I know, but just hear me out…
Lesson no 1: good things come out from every bad situation
Drawn in my own darkness and depression, few days after my 30th birthday I joined for the first time in my life a ballet class; it wasn’t any kind of artistic or divine purpose to it. I just needed to distract my mind from all the emotional mess I was in…. actually strike that…. The emotional mess I created myself.
Looking now back, me going so much out from my comfort zone was a desperate act, in reality, I would probably not have ever touched a ballet barre so late in my life if I weren’t in that low point of my existence. I was already in therapy and probably on some medical prescriptions too, but nothing was working.
Lesson no 2: Mind drives the body, not the other way around
It was a studio in Brussels, in Madou area, a bit shabby for my taste. The teacher was an ex ballerina from Bejart ballet company, a skinny old lady with Russian teaching style and no mercy for beginners. With no additional instructions, I was asked to take my seat “a la barre” and follow the person in front.
It was a mess from the first second, when we were asked to take “la premiere position” (what the heck is that?!). I remember how all inside me was boiling, while trying hard to give my body instructions and then somehow ending up looking like a goose. The teacher was screaming “genoux tendus”, “flex, pointe, flex, pointe”, “pliez”, whatever….
By my 5th minute of that class, my head was spinning with frustration and anger at myself, the teacher, the others in class, the rhythm…
I left the room disappointed with myself. I was skinny, short, flexible and in a good shape. I thought I was the definition of what a ballet dancer needed.
What I didn’t know at that point is that classical dance is much more about focus and balance, about mind-body connection, effort and flow at the same time, is about emotional strength more than body muscles.
After my first ballet experience, I wanted to leave and never come back. I felt inappropriate and silly, as my feet would not follow the instructions and my body felt stiff as a board.
Lesson 3: Don’t judge from appearance
Ballet dancers look effortless and flowy. In reality, behind the simplest posture, every muscle in that body is tensed, from the top of the head to the nails of their toes and fingers.
After a ballet class, you feel muscles that you didn’t even know you have in your body, no joke!
If it were to repeat the instructions just for sitting correctly in the first position it would take five minutes. You need to focus on every inch of your body. At the same time!
So for me, ballet is a lesson of not judging other people for what they have or get. Because while it might seem easy from the outside, behind there is usually a lot of time, effort and energy engaged to get there.
Lesson 4: focus on progress
So, I almost gave up after the first class. But something pushed me back to that studio room. Maybe it was stubbornness, maybe was calling or destiny. Despite my hurt ego, I did go back next week and second time around I was armed with ballet shoes and ready to swallow my pride for one full hour.
Things were not much different this time but it was bearable.
By the fifth class, I started actually getting the basics and my body started listening to my brain.
It was somehow like creating new mental pathways and rewiring my own cells.
I had to start focusing on what I can do, instead of all the things I couldn’t even conceive at that point.
In time, this helped me be kinder to myself and understand the process of learning, the emotional path we go through in our personal or professional lives when we start something new.
Lesson 5: how the compound effect works
In my free time, I was studying on Youtube ballet principles, body movements and was watching ballet variations. I quickly moved from one training a week, to two and soon even three. It was exhausting, but much needed.
After few weeks, my teacher actually paid me a compliment; she said she never saw so much determination and progress in a total beginner “at your age”. These few words raised my belief so much! Even if for a long period I didn’t see any real results, the effort built up and one day I started believing in my capacity that one day I would train also on pointes.
It was incredible to notice how nothing would happen for months and then one day you just go in the class and you pull off a decent pirouette.
Ballet is about putting the effort in when you see no results. It first shakes you to the ground and then builds you up into a more confident person.
Lesson 6: When you have fun things are so much easier
I also moved from frustration and resentment (which by the way were feelings that I was experiencing also in my personal life, what a coincidence!) to having fun and enjoying the process, rather than looking for the result.
And that’s when miracles happened.
I started feeling the music, it would get me in the flow and when I was entering the studio door, I left outside the rest of my life.
On a certain level, behind closed doors, I was crafting another Madalina.
The moment I started laughing at my lack of skills (instead of putting myself down), things started shifting. Mentally, I started feeling better, my practice improved and, weird enough, even my life slowly started taking a turn for the better.
Lesson 7: Don’t listen to others, listen to your desires
I started asking around what it would take to get to train on pointes. Class fellows would start telling me they train for 10 years, but you know…. as an adult, you can never really get so much flexibility in your feet and strength in your legs; others told me the horror stories of badly hurting their legs on pointes; majority didn’t even understand my stubbornness: why would I put myself through that pain?!
And, in the first phase, nobody from that studio took me seriously when I said that one day I would “sous-sus” on those shoes.
In time, my ankles got more flexible, my posture improved and my determination drove me very close.
Lesson 8: Don’t give up even when you gave up
But then life happens.
I gave up training just about 2-3 months before the teacher would allow me climb the pointes. By this point, I had almost two years of practice. I came back again few months later, but I was so disappointed on how my body lost so much ability!
I think I was on and off and gave up a second time being very close. I was training very rarely and for one year in 2018 I quit ballet for good.
My coach would call that the terror barrier. There is a whole story behind this. When you get to the point of shifting paradigms in your mind, there is a part in you that screams to stay the same, so you panic and give up. And I did that a few times.
But this philosophy of not giving up when you gave up (or keep on trying) has proved to work in this case; and few others in my life.
Lesson 9: It is all about a decision
But this year I came back.
In August, I decided as a clear objective that I will be training on pointes. I wrote it on a piece of paper and read it every morning and every night.
I went back to ballet in September. By the end of October, I had my first pointes training. I consider this one of the biggest achievements in life.
Just like this!
And it has nothing to do with the actual physical ability, but it is about what this whole process represents for me.
Lesson 10: Draw the lessons, keep on learning
Every time I put those shoes on, I remind myself I am a winner. I realise I defied probabilities. I understand life in a totally different way. I learned not to compare myself with others and to listen to my own instinct and body.
Every class in ballet in itself is a challenge to grow, improve, and battle your mental limitations and your body’s restrictions.
But the most important thing is that, in this whole process, I truly became a totally different person. Ballet practice was probably one of the first triggers for the change.
And that is probably why ballet entered into my life in the first place.