I’m sitting in the Crossing Borders’ empty office on a foggy November morning, thinking about what to write the next blog post about. My mind is blank, the bleary greyness is seemingly all-consuming, I’ve exhausted all my ideas. Then I go to put some music on. I remember that around this time last year I began to listen to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. I can’t bring myself to listen to actually Christmas music as I did grow up in a fairly Jewish environment and Christmas music just doesn’t do the same thing for me as it might for my fellow Christians. The Nutcracker, however, represents a universal, secular, bridge to cheerful holiday music. Perfect for this bleak November Morning.
I begin to play the composition titled ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. It starts slow, with a faint dinging of bells that creeps louder and louder at the music begins to take off. I’m suddenly reminded of something as the bells resonate louder, I remember the choreography that is synonymous with those dings. I was a dancer. I was serious about it and I almost wanted to go professional for a while. In a ballet class nearly 6 or 7 years ago, around Christmas time, my ballet teacher taught us a variation from the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy just for fun. We were preparing for our own production of the Nutcracker, I was cast as a flower in ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and a snowflake in ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’. But just for fun, our teacher taught us the choreography to the solo number that would be performed by whoever was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The thing about ballet is that it really is much more complex than people seem to think. I think people are generally aware that a ballerina’s feet are compromised for the beauty of the spectacle, bleeding blisters and calluses are an everyday occurrence. But it is more than the physical features of a dancer that need to be hardened. Ballet represents a crossing of mental borders. It will change you if you work hard enough. It teaches you discipline, control, balance, perseverance, how to take criticism, to let your actions speak for themselves (be humble; there’s always room for improvement), that hard work should be embraced with a smile (dealing with pain makes you stronger), and that no individual is greater than the team.
I carry these lessons with me, even as I am no longer dancing. I still remember the graceful piqué (see the photo above with the green tutu) that one does as the opening move to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, just as I still remember that the feeling of sore muscles the day after a tough practice was a good thing, as it meant you were getting stronger. These lessons were slowly drilled into my head and all of the heads of my fellow students, making us more mature, reflective, and conscious of our actions both in and outside the dance studio. These lessons allowed us to cross the border from adolescence to adulthood with both strength and grace.
By Maya Schwartz