“In an art form that deliberately conceals the enormity of effort that goes into its creation, we are not meant to see behind the curtain. But I think that this does a great disservice to the dancers, and that having a sense of what lies beneath both enhances our experience of the performance and leads to a more profound appreciation of the dancer’s essential being.” -Rick Guest, photographer
The thing I admire most about ballet dancers are their ability to make the super human look effortless. The leaps, the spins, the balancing on toes from movement to movement…it’s as if their bodies are being carried by the wind. Or their spines are jelly rather than bone. Their legs are pulled up straight by a string controlled by an invisible puppeteer. But what is not often known to, or considered by the audience are the hours upon hours of grueling rehearsal. We don’t see the bruises or see the winces from the sore muscles. We never see the sweat wiped from faces and chests backstage between entrances and exits. We never see the blistered or broken toes that are hidden by the delicate, pale pink pointe shoes.
It is the job of the dancer to dance through and in spite of the pain. Just like an athlete who must still get a goal, a touchdown, or land solidly, without faltering from the uneven parallel bars despite sprained and broken bones. The show must always go on and it is the job of the artist to hide the hard work and the pain beneath the costume.
After six weeks of taking a medical leave of absence to recover from my DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery, I will be going back to work. While I love my job and can’t wait to see my students again, I’m feeling trepidatious about getting back to normal life. I have recovered well, without much incident, but I feel like I’m still recovering. I can get around and move normally if I’m careful but I don’t have the same energy or endurance as I did before my surgery. I get really tired in the middle of the day and find it hard to focus or get my energy back without resting. Each week I experience dramatic improvements and I have every reason to believe that within the next few weeks my engery and endurance will return.But for now, I feel like I have to hide what I feel.
I am always saying, “fake it ’til you make it.” I say it to students who tell me that their too tired to get up from their seats to play a game or perform a scene. I tell them that if they fake having energy, that soon they really will be energized. It’s mind over matter. If you put on a smile, eventually, you will feel happier than you did a few minutes ago.
I did this throughout chemo and radiation. I had to hide my fatigue under the costume of smiles and exuberance. It ended up working for me. And now I need to do it again. I must put on my costume and conceal the awful scars that lie beneath; the scar from hip bone to hip bone, that show all of the hard work and healing I have had to endure these last six weeks. My students don’t care if I was cut in half on January 8th. And they shouldn’t care. I’m there to do a job and the show must always go on.
So, on Monday, the alarm clock will go off. I’ll groan and complain as I walk to my shower. But by the time I get off the train and walk into school, I’ll have a smile on my face. I will teach effortlessly, with grace. No one will see the work it’s taking for me to keep going. And maybe I’ll get so lost in the moments, the laughter and stories, that I’ll forget for a little while myself. No one will see what lies beneath.