Breaking the Skin Again

Image credit: Tiziano Cavigli

by Bryn Watkins

So as I may or may not have mentioned previously, I am a ballet dancer. And people who choose (though who knows why) to train in ballet often go by the rule that every one day you take off, you’ve lost three days of work. You’ll note that makes any efforts to gain ground pretty bleak– you have to work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, not in any hopes to improve, but just to negate the ground you must inevitably lose by loafing around on Sunday. Let me tell you, it’s slow going.

This summer, I spent about a month-and-a-half dancing only once a week because it was summer and because I wasn’t then dancing professionally. Allow me to do the math: 42 days on that calendar, and only six of them were work days. The other (brace yourself) 36 days were spent gallivanting around the country on road trips, hiking through canyons, sleeping, eating, and justifying my own lazy bum to myself inside my head, even if those are very eighteen-year-old-appropriate summer adventures. The trouble is that, according to the Law of the Work Horse, those 36 days of fun put me back 102! So rather than having relaxed with some occasional dancing for a month-and-a-half, it was as if I hadn’t worked at all for three-and-a-half months when I began to get myself back in shape at the start of autumn.

Sorry for all the math, but I think you’ll understand why I had to scratch my head and grab my calculator and my calendar and crunch a few numbers when I tell you that my first real class back left my toes an awkward bloody mess. Bright red pools from both feet, all over the studio floor! See, my toes have never bled like that, ever. I’ve been en pointe for about ten years, and not once have I ever removed my shoes to find an entire Red Cross drive operating under the satin without my consent. The horror!

So what does this all mean for my dancing? And what’s it got to do with you?

Plenty. I think most of us would acknowledge that there are talents we once had that we have allowed to fall into disuse.

Did you used to play the piano? Did you used to read just for fun? Or write? Do puzzles on the weekends? Or dance en pointe every day? Did you used to have calluses that prevented you from bleeding?

I’ve had too many conversations since I got to college about what people used to be interested in—“well I play the violin, actually. I just, I mean, I guess haven’t since I was in fifth grade”—and I fear those denatured dimensions that lend people charisma find even more rationale when people graduate from young adults to the real thing. And I’d like to submit my vote that we not let that happen.

Victor Hugo believed that “curiosity is one of the forms of feminine bravery,” and despite how my own knees quake in my boots when I have to whip out my rusty and underdeveloped French in conversation, or when I have to play the piano in church, or when I face the daunting task of making up my 102 lost days in the studio, I really believe that’s true. No matter the path we choose, the courage to return to old familiar trails should remain one of our foremost priorities.

I’m happy to report that my toes have stopped bleeding every time I stuff them in my glue-and-cardboard coffin-shoes, although you’ll note that I have some considerable work still to do before I get to qualify as being entirely “in shape” again, according to the Law.

But I think if we all look back at our childhoods and really consider how our colors have waned, we all have some considerable work to do. So perhaps it’s time to dust off that old paint set or remind yourself (again) how to play that old banjo. And if you end up with bloody fingers, just know that there’s at least one person who totally understands.

One Comment on “Breaking the Skin Again

  1. Absolutely so charmingly written—and overflowing with truths that none of us can deny. Good job, my beautiful princess!! XXOO

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