Evie and I are watching Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker”, admiring the pretty dancing and soaking in the glorious music. The costumes are gorgeous, the dancers beautiful (even the men – why, Oh Why do they make those tights so tight?!!) and the scenery is just magical. My favourite part is always when the Christmas tree grows big up out of the floor. I can tell Evie likes it too.
Two DVD’s arrived in the post a few weeks ago, courtesy of Granny Fee in South Africa, one of which was “The Nutcracker” and other was “You Can Be a Ballet Dancer”. As a result, all Evie has wanted to watch in the past two weeks has been little girls in poofy tutus and very tight hairbuns tripping daintily across the dance floor. It is very cute. I always thought that I would love for my children to learn how to be little ballerinas.
Back in Sub A (Year One in the UK), I took ballet classes in an old church hall along with most of my school mates. We learned how to point our toes, put our feet in the different positions, and hold onto the bar. We learned how to be fairies and how to hold up our arms nicely. Once I tried to be a monkey instead of an angel during improvisation and got told off (personally I think it was very creative to try and hang off the bar by my feet!) I was the only one in the class to get a “C” instead of an “A”, and all I can remember about the exam is my teacher frowning at my feet, and the fact that my pudding-bowl-shaped haircut wouldn’t fit nicely into a bun (thanks, Mom!)
Ballet is beautiful, pretty and ethereal, but it is also rather stifling, and, I have finally realised (with some level of relief), that it is not my favourite kind of dancing, nor one that I necessarily want to enforce upon my children. I can remember my drama teacher at University (a very regal personality of epic fleshly proportions) showing us two clips of different cultures’ standards of beauty in dance.
The first was a line of dainty, graceful, pale-skinned ballet dancers floating across the stage (looking rather anaemic), and the second was of a crowd of large, sweating Zulu women, ululating and taking it in turns to throw their legs high into the air and stamp them down on the ground, massive thighs and breasts quivering, and shrieking with laughter if one of them lost their balance and fell. The difference between the two was quite breath-taking.
Thinking about these two extremes takes me back to one of the most life-changing and dramatic times in my life.
I am standing in front of the mirror in the hospital toilet, looking at myself for the first time since having given birth to Isaac. Weak and shaky, my head is still swimming with the enormity of what I have just been through. My body is sore, swollen, broken and a bit messy, not anything you would ever see in a magazine or on a billboard. But I am in awe. It hits me forcibly, what an awe-inspiring, breath-taking, divine work of art I am beholding. This body, this beautiful, beautiful, body, has done something so spectacular and so mind-blowing I can hardly believe it. It has produced life – the most beautiful, perfect little life I have ever seen.
I thought of all the years of self-loathing and dieting, all the years of moaning and complaining and the mental beatings I would give myself for not being thin enough, smooth enough, small enough, fit enough. I am so sorry, I mouth, you are so beautiful, so strong and so miraculous. It felt something like that beautiful Christmas morning must have been, when the angels sang Noel and the shepherds marvelled. I realised that I would never see my body the same way again.
Now, a few years and two more children later, a level of respect and deep appreciation for my body has remained with me. I no longer lament that I am not a graceful, lithe ballet-dancer-type. I rejoice that I am strong, and fertile, and that my babies grow big and fat and healthy. Surely there is no greater thing. I remember coming back to the ballet class one year after a fateful, chocolate-laden Christmas with my overly-generous Grandparents. My teacher arched her eyebrows, “My, but you got fat!”
While I have no desire to be massively overweight or unhealthy, my perspective on what is beautiful will never be the same. And while I can admire and respect those dedicated, talented dancers at the Royal Ballet, you can be sure that I will encourage my children to choose a dance that is perhaps more true to life – something that is exuberant and joyous and full of strength and passion (perhaps the Flamenco would be a good place to start). Or at least something a little more free and frivolous – like tap-dancing or hip-hop for instance. Failing that, we will resort to the tunes on Simon’s phone, while Isaac jives and shimmies around the lounge shouting, “Look Mama, my body is full of silly games!”
Our bodies are so beautiful, gifts from God, the creator of life. I wish we always gave them the respect, love and admiration they deserve, whether slim, graceful, large or vibrant. They nourish life and are full of miracles every day.