I believe in the old saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Now, some people have told me that those who believe this proverb have never truly loved anything. I tell you, I have loved, and I have lost, and, no matter how hard-won it may have been, I am a better person because of it.
I tell people that “I used to be a dancer.” I say the phrase, “used to be,” but in my heart I know I don’t mean it. That girl, the dancer, is lost, but she’s still with me, no matter how much easier it would be for her to leave forever.
Sometimes, the dancer reminds me so suddenly of her existence within me that she blindsides, me, leaves me bruised and broken like an abusive lover. Lying in bed in the morning, or sitting at a stoplight, or cooking dinner, I suddenly remember that my toe shoe was a Bloch, size 4D. That I was best at piqué turns. That the fourth toe on my right foot was the one that always blistered first. The dancer reminds me that she’s there every time I see satin ribbon, or when I hear The Nutcracker Suite playing innocently in a department store at Christmas. That old girl may be lost, but she haunts me still, puts her pale face close to my ear and whispers, “you were a dancer once.”
A few times each year—because that is all my soul can endure, I dig through my bottom drawer, beneath the running pants and sweatshirts, looking for my pointe shoes. Thery’re always there, glossy still, though bruised with rosin and slighly frayed at the tips. They’re there, waiting. So I take them out, wind those faded ribbons around my ankles, and visit the grave of the dancer I once was.
I walk for a while over the wood floors of my bedroom, listening to the thud of the shoes, like a heartbeat. I rise up and take a few bourrés across the floor. I plié and step into a series of piqué turns and suddenly I am back in the studio with my gauzy skirt flowing around me, or onstage with the music playing in my ears. I remember, then, why I did it, and why, even if I knew I would have to leave it, I would do it again.
Usually, when the dancer reminds me that she’s not quite gone, I try and push her away. Here, though, I sit down on my bedroom floor in my toe shoes, lean against the wall, and let myself feel grateful to her for not leaving me. Every blister, every cramp, every arch of the back and lift of the arm, every note of music, every pin in my hair, every hole in my tights and sequin on my costume, every bead of sweat and every, every tear, all pay homage.
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