Writing by Hannah Forsdike // Illustration by Loreta Isac
The tiny dancer spun mechanically on the spot. Her music had begun to skip and jump from time to time, and the coil holding her in place would catch on the velvet lining of the jewelry box every few turns. One day I noticed a small chip missing from of her porcelain hand, frozen perfectly in fourth position.
When I was ten years old, I didn’t know how to quit ballet. It had become so intrinsically intertwined with my identity. Perhaps I was afraid it was the most interesting thing about me. Caught somewhere in between childhood and adolescence, I wasn’t this little kid with too much energy anymore, but I hadn’t quite found my voice yet either. I don’t remember when I started wanting to quit exactly. I just remember that I felt myself drifting away from dancing. The perfect, prima ballerina image I put on just didn’t feel honest anymore. And so, at ten years old I had a full blown identity crisis.
My mother had gifted me the jewelry box when I was very little. It had belonged to her when she was a child. When I opened the lid, heard the music and saw this elegant porcelain ballerina twirling, I thought she was the perfect picture of femininity. I thought, that is what I want to be when I’m grown up. So aware of how childlike I was, I knew adulthood was far away, somewhere in the distant future. Hard to see, but easy to romanticise. And in my fantasies I was always the tiny dancer.
I was never the best in my class, but I was never the worst either. I usually specialised in making the other girls laugh. At ten years old, I started to become more aware of my body, which felt awkward and wrong, half naked in my leotard and pinky, flesh coloured stockings, and one day, like eve in the garden, I felt like I wanted to cover up.
“Now let me see ten perfect pleats,” said our teacher. She was in her 40s, I guess. Her hair was cropped short to her head, for connivence. Years of dancing had taken a toll on her body, and she limped around us during class, correcting our posture. She was the only adult ballerina I knew, and she wasn’t much like my tiny dancer at all. But that day in class, I began to envy the sheer skirt she wore over her leotard.
We practiced our pleats in the mirror, so we could watch ourselves and watch each other. We were perfectly synchronised, almost mechanical. So much of ballet was about discipline, no one girl was supposed to stand out. We all wore the same navy blue leotard, our hair was pulled back into tiny, tight knots at the crown of our heads. The ribbons on our shoes were all tied identically. And we moved together, always. We could have been the same girl, repeated over and over in a hall of mirrors. But when I found my own reflection, I could only see all the ways I stood out. The proportions of my ever growing body felt wrong, so did the freckles on my arms. My short hair couldn’t be made into a bun as neat and full as the other girls. Strands of hair threatened to escape at all times, sticking to my sweaty face, flushed pink from the workout. I couldn’t see my place in this matching set of tiny dancers, and I thought they’d probably look better if I wasn’t there.
When my mum picked me up she asked how the class was, and I lied and say it was good. And later, when I was alone in my room, a den of girly, ballet themed memorabilia that I just didn’t resonate with anymore, I practiced telling my parents that I wanted to quit in my head. I looked at the closed jewelry box on my bed side table, almost lost under a stack of clutter. Adulthood still seemed so far away, but my dreams for the future had changed entirely.[share]