Why I’ll Never Be A Ballet Dancer

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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.

Royal Zulu Reed Dance

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.

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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.

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Flamenco: Beauty and Passion

flamenco

We just spent a week in Madrid for a Pastors’ Bootcamp. Although it sounds intimidating, it was actually a phenomenal time of training, learning, prayer, lots of eating and (a personal favourite) lovely Spanish red wine! I think Judah was delighted with the amount of food I consumed, as milk production at the mama-factory was at an all-time high.

The Spanish have quite different rhythms of life, as lunch is only eaten at 2pm, usually consists of four courses and lasts for two hours, and supper is only at about 9pm or later. We heard life outside our hotel windows well past midnight, and everything is dead until at least 10 or so in the morning. And I felt like I was on holiday, because there was no cooking, no cleaning, and no laundry! (although now I am still trying to clear the backlog)

The Spanish people are wonderful – warm, passionate, strong and gritty, yet sensitive. I got the feeling one would not like to get in a fight with a Spanish person, but if one did, it would be quite possible to kiss each other soundly on the cheek afterwards and end up at a Tapas bar somewhere drinking copious amounts of wine and slapping the table together.

Probably the highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see a Flamenco dance on our last night. It was a special treat organised for us by the church in Madrid. After a short walk through bustling streets, we were ushered into a dimly lit, large upper room of a restaurant. It seemed impossibly old with exquisite wood carvings and mosaics all around the walls and ceilings. There was a great sense of history and majesty, rather like walking into an old church, except here there was a busy hum of conversation and a crackle of something electric in the air.

Then there was a hush as a small group filed onto a high stage in the middle of the room. A guitarist, a singer and three dancers. We all fell quiet, sipping our drinks, as the guitarist began to play and the singer leaned into the microphone. He sang, a wonderful husky, haunting sound, the notes tumbling and falling over each other and mingling with the plaintive, sweet melody of the acoustic guitar, racing up and down the scales like water. Then a dancer appeared at the edge of the stage.

Poised like a lioness, she moved slowly and deliberately, her hands fluttering and fluid, and her face contorted with pain and deep emotion. Then with a flash of hands and a violent stamp of her feet the guitar broke into an agitated strumming, and the pace accelerated. The other dancers clapped and stamped their heavy shoes, as she flew and twirled and twisted and stamped. The power in her feet was incredible – their staccato on the floor sounded like thunder, and every time she twirled to crash them down, it felt like the air was vibrating with explosions. Faster and faster she went, the musicians sweating to keep up and the other dancers clapping and shouting their pleasure.

When she finished, with one final crash of her shoes to the wooden floor, her immaculate headdress was quivering with exertion, and her face was covered in a glowing sheen. The audience applauded and shouted rapturously. Then the next dancer got up, and the next. I was blown away by the strength and power these men and women showed. Tightly controlled and sensuous, with the hands fluttering and rippling around their bodies like birds trying to break free, it was as though something deep was working its way to the surface and releasing itself in the power of those crashes of the feet to the floor.

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Tanya, a missionary in Madrid, was sitting next to me, and she leaned across to show me some writing on her phone about the Flamenco. Apparently it was a peasant dance originating from the Andalusian mountains, a personal expression of poor people groups and oppressed ethnic minorities. It has a wide range of influences from all over the world.

It struck me, as I watched these impassioned dancers, living and breathing this wild Flamenco, that the deep emotion they were expressing was part of the dance’s beauty. The fact that centuries of history and human experience could be so caught up in a dance was mesmerising.

It spoke to me of how much beauty can be borne out of pain, and how, channelled in the right direction, even the most negative experience can result in great depth and richness of expression. Much like many of the African-American spiritual songs sung by the slaves on cotton farms in America, there was something about the Flamenco that spoke deeply to my soul.

I thought about how the pain of having children (not only literally, as in childbirth, but figuratively, as I sacrifice many of my pleasures daily) has wrought so much character and spiritual formation in me, and also how much joy and pleasure our children bring us day to day. It also reminded me to channel my frustrations, and to find a positive expression for the deep things that lurk beneath the (sometimes) superficiality of my busy life.

I love Spain, the people, its culture and its dance. I hope to go back there someday…. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to buy some shoes and learn the Flamenco.