The Beauty of Ballet

jose-mateo-ballet.jpgToday, Kate reflects on the beauty of ballet across generations:

Does the beauty of ballet call to every little girl at some point in her life? Probably not -- there must be at least a few who are immune to the magic of toe shoes, the awe of the light-as-air lift, the seeming impossibility of a dancer on pointe -- but the appeal seems to be almost universal. I remember my mother describing how as a child she would watch and re-watch The Red Shoes, an overwrought 1948 melodrama about love and devotion gone wrong among dancers, and though the film itself didn't do much for me, I fully appreciated the pull of the ballet scenes. I'm not sure whether it's the costumes, the immense strength and discipline hidden under layers of pink tulle, or the fairy tales recreated on the stage, but ballet got to me too, and now it's gotten to my preschool-aged daughter.
As a girl, I requested and received ballet lessons, but it quickly became apparent that I had neither the talent nor the drive to succeed at them. I found the endless repetition of exercises and positions boring, and I would get antsy as the minutes at the barre passed slowly. I was flexible and skinny, but otherwise didn't have much going for me. So I became an occasional spectator, going to the ballet once every few years, wowing at the prowess on stage, ooh'ing over the autographed toe shoes for sale in the lobby. I've even made it to the Bolshoi in St. Petersburg to see Giselle, an experience I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

When my 4-year-old daughter first announced that she wanted to take lessons, I have to confess to being somewhat skeptical. My daughter is everything I wasn't as a girl -- physically and emotionally robust, active, risk-taking -- and I wasn't sure that she would have the patience for ballet. Plus, as an adult, I have a more nuanced understanding of the training that goes into ballet (even for young girls), having known friends who suffered through eating disorders and injuries in their quests to become serious dancers. But my daughter pressed and we agreed, signing her up for beginning-level classes at José Mateo Ballet Theater in Cambridge, and we're so far very happy with the experience. The classes are appropriately geared for the age and attention-span, the teachers are gentle, and the community seems like a nice one.

The recent experience of returning to a ballet school inspired me to pick up Toni Bentley's ballet memoir Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal, written in 1980 about her life as a member of the New York City Ballet. Bentley was 23 at the time and had been dancing for twenty years, was devoted to the NYCB and the aging George Balanchine, but was stagnating in her career. She journaled to provide an outlet for her frustrations and anxieties, and to give voice to her luminous love of dancing. The book is an odd one the way published diaries often are, but well worth reading by any woman who retains inside her the girl who could be transfixed by the almost heavenly sight of a ballerina on pointe.

Image credit: José Mateo Ballet Theater