When I was a kid, once a week I would head down to the town hall and have my ballet lesson. Those lessons were the archetype of old-fashioned ballet classes – lots of little girls in pastel leotards watched over by a silver-haired ballet teacher, telling us to do things like “hold a £1 coin between your thighs”, “stick pins in your bottom”, and imagine we were attached to the ceiling by a thread. I started those ballet lessons aged three, and would continue doing them for a little short of a decade. When I did eventually decide to call it quits, it was for a variety of reasons: that wonderful silver-haired ballet teacher had decided to retire (we called her Mrs Lewis); and my growth spurts were beginning to get the better of me, so I was falling behind. Plus, I was just on the cusp of my teens, about to become a fated “emo kid”, and ballet was definitely not on my list of “cool” things (I did attempt to do street dance instead – very “cool” – but failed miserably). Puberty is tough and complicated though, and whilst ballet – and dance in general – had once been such an important part of my life, it disappeared whilst my mind was caught up with other, more complicated things.
I had also stopped pretty much all exercise during my teens (partially because of low bone density fears), which was fine for a while (the seemingly infinite capabilities of able-bodied youth), but ended up throwing my back in my very early twenties, leaving my on codeine and unable to wash my hair without pain for weeks. It was a turning point that made me decide I had to get in shape, and more flexible. This started with gym visits, something I attempted to throw myself into – and it worked for a while – but never really held my interest. Yeah, I could go and run for half an hour, but it had to include a good podcast or playlist (I loved those running machines with built-in TVs). I liked the endorphins I got from going to the gym – it relieved my stress, and made me happy – but it didn’t seem quite enough somehow, and I found it hard to keep going back when I was down.
It wasn’t until I returned to ballet I really realised what I needed. Not just exercise, but something I could put my body and mind into. If you’ve ever tried ballet, you’ll know it has a lot of structure and technique in it. Some people don’t like that, but for me it’s perfect. I have a very logical, perfectionist side, and the structure and rules of ballet allow me to fill my mind with only that, into an almost meditative state. It allows me to let go of the stress and anxiety of life, and just focus. It gives me more control of my thoughts, and when I leave my mood is upped by like 30 percentage points.
I restarted ballet properly (by which I mean weekly classes, without a significant break) about a year ago, studying at the English National Ballet and Pineapple, giving me two lessons a week. In that year, physically, I’ve gone from not being able to touch my toes at all to being able to bring my head to my knees (just) when I’m warmed up, and my leg muscles have gone from zero to something I can actually be proud of. I’ve gained a better understand of and become more comfortable in my body. I’ve always had problems being at home in my body, in a number of ways, but taking control of it through ballet, and seeing it strengthen and grow (literally, I’ve gained about an inch of height – although that’s probably more “stretched”) has made me so much more at home in it. Mentally, it’s given me a control over my anxiety and stress that’s purely mine – something that I decided to do, that I kept on doing, that I have complete control over.
It’s also opened me up to new people and new (or renewed) experiences. I’ve started going to the ballet again, something I also hadn’t done since I was a child; something that I enjoy and find magical. I’ve also made new friends; both the people in my ballet classes, and online, through adult ballet communities (people who started/restarted ballet as adults, not X-rated ballet sites, hah). I’m also looking forward to performing; something I’ve always loved (I will shamelessly admit to loving being the centre of attention at times) but not had many opportunities to do.
I’ve got a whole year of ballet under my belt now; a year of tendus, pliés, and more recently, pirouettes. I’ve got lots of exciting plans coming up; a Cinderella Intensive with the London Amateur Ballet at Easter, and I’ve just added a new (more difficult) ballet class to my weekly schedule. I’ve got goals like nailing a double pirouette, and getting a 90° extension (taking care to avoid the dreaded sickle foot), which I can focus on when university and life gets tough. This year of ballet has lifted me up and focused me, and I look forward to it doing so for many years more.
I’m wearing a Mirella leotard in these photos , along with the wonderful Cosmos skirt and “Eat, Plié, Love” t-shirt from the amazing Cloud & Victory (they make beautiful stuff, I want to own it all!). The photos were taken by my lovely boyfriend, also know as felltir (go follow him on twitter, he’s great).
I haven’t written anything in a while (sorry, I can only attempt to blame university stress for this), and this post is quite different from anything I’ve previously written – although I do like to think physics and ballet have more in common than you’d think. I’m hoping to start writing more, and to widen my scope of topics. I’ve got a few pieces I’m hoping to publish in the coming months, some scientific and some not; follow me on Instagram or Twitter if you’d like to hear about those when they come out, or if you’d like to see more pictures of my face (and what I get up to).