The R Word

I think the first sign for me, the beginning of the end, was that I kept looking in the mirror, wondering why I was still dressed in that get-up: tutu, tights and various sparkly accoutrement. After years in this uniform, it suddenly no longer fit. I felt silly. I felt like a fraud.

It wasn’t my age, necessarily, or the fact that I was injured that made me want to retire. I had been injured before. It wasn’t a lack of love or ambition, which surprised me. I just remember working on a particularly challenging ballet and knowing that dancing was moving into a place where I could not go.

I felt like Sam Gamgee saying good-bye to Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings. Frodo boards the ship with Gandalf and the remaining elves to sail away to some far away magical land, leaving a teary-eyed Sam behind on the dock with the other frumpy hobbits. It wasn’t my destiny to get on that next generation ballet boat and I knew it with the knowing I have.

But the knowing seemed to stop there. I wiped my tears, plodded back to the shire and waited. I waited for over a year. I was alone and without distraction. I felt lost in a void. Out of desperation, I hired a career counselor. I bought an expensive computer bag and an even more expensive suit. I didn’t know where I was going, but I wanted to get there in style.

I went back to college, seeking answers, seeking direction, but there were none. Anyway, it gave me an excuse to leave the house. I went to Costa Rica and danced around the sacred fire. No answers there either, but at least now I was having some fun. So much fun, in fact, that I started making friends with the void, with the not-knowing.

Eventually, seemingly out of nowhere, a call came to teach. Not a divine call or anything. I mean, I literally got a call from someone to cover some classes. I had taught before, here and there, but always secretly resisted it. It was what those retired people did and I never wanted to be one of those. But now, after hours of back-to-back episodes of the Sopranos, I realized I had nothing to lose. I didn’t even have an identity. I couldn’t remember who I was, or more importantly, who I thought I was supposed to be, and that was just fine. Empowering, in fact. So I packed up my computer bag with a pair of sweats and headed to the studio. It’s been a good fit so far, until the next void, that is.

We think of retirement as a sort of death and it is. But what is death really? It’s just making room for birth. It’s just another transition. Dancing just changed for me, from the micro to the macro. It was a graduation more than anything. I had increased responsibility, but in many ways, it was a relief to not have to constantly worry about myself. In the giving of teaching, I feel more in my power than I ever did as a dancer.

Occassionally, the goddess still knocks on my door and dances me. She is gentle with me now. When she comes, I always oblige by taking a class or just a few whirls around the coffee table. She just wants to play. It’s kinda weird, after all we’ve been through, but it’s ok.

All is forgiven.


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