Fat dancer. That is what I am. Seriously, it is so tedious and overwhelming. The weight, the embarrassment, even the shame. When I tell people I study ballet, there’s a moment where, in disbelief, their eyes flicker. However, the veracity of my statement overturns their doubt and their eyes flash with admiration as they ask how long I’ve been dancing and do I like it. Then, envy, as they reveal their secret wish to have studied ballet themselves or, if they dance, their eyes shine with a certain camaraderie. Never has any ballerina pointed out that I am fat. Never have they turned in ridicule. Perhaps it is the times or where I study and live, and I am thankful.
I did have a teacher once tell me to lose weight. He was in earnest and deep concern for my health and prosperity as a performer as his advice came only after I broke my foot. He logically pointed out that less weight on the foot would result in faster healing. I could hardly argue. Nonetheless, I felt ashamed and embarrassed and hated every second of the two-minute lecture. I felt especially irritated because it was during one of my longest running and most successful attempts at weight loss. I felt like the kid who was already cleaning their room and their parent tells them to go clean their room, only worse since I was basically told I was fat. That felt horrible and I hated it.
My mother had a fairy in her garden. It stood, barefoot, about eighteen inches tall and had lovely wings, a flowing dress, and was made from some mysterious dark grey material. My mother loved that fairy. Not for her wings or flowing dress. Nor for her height or color. She loved that fairy for her arms and hands. They were dancer’s arms and hands, delicately placed and seemingly floating through the air with all the grace and fire of a dancer. My mother kept that fairy because it reminded her of me.
Now my mother is gone and I keep the fairy in my garden. And when I look upon her lovely arms and hands, I think of my mother and how she had the greatest respect for my dance training. She carried deep remorse that she had not given me dance lessons as a child. Once I began to study ballet in my midlife, she saw the waste of untrained talent in my youth. She felt I could have made a success of it. But now I was too old, so they say. And she wanted nothing more than for me to prove them all wrong and become a professional dancer, even if I was in my late thirties. She knew I wanted to start a dance company. She knew dance was my deepest love and the work I felt I was place on the Earth to fulfill. And in her last years, she watched me give up. She watched me get a “real” job and stop training. She had no idea why. Nor did I at the time.
I convinced myself it was money (you must work if you want to eat!) but upon receiving a modest inheritance with which I could have pursued a dance career and started a dance company or studio, I chose to train for other ventures. I had no faith in my dancing talent. I had no faith in my ability to be a dancer. I had no faith in the ignored call I repeatedly heard. I felt I was too fat and that no one would ever take me seriously. As Einstein says, “Dancers are the Athletes of God.” As much pride as that quote gave to me, it also bore the searing marks of humiliation because I was fat. What athlete is fat? So I pursued another avenue in which to invest the money.
I lost it all.
When you lose everything it is a deep and crushing blow. For me, it wasn’t just about losing money. It was losing my mother’s money. It was failing her. Failing my family. Loosing face. It was abandonment. I had convinced myself that the path I took with the money was one my mother would have taken and one of which she would have supported and been proud. (And I do believe that but she would have also insisted that I dance.) This steadfast and unshakable belief led to an absolute breakdown when I lost it all. How could this happen to me? I had worked so hard. I worked in faith. I worked with my heart. I worked in the belief of blessing. But it failed. Thus I felt abandonment, from my mother and even from God.
I was lost and alone with no one to turn to but the few friends in whom I could confide and who could only offer me kind words. Rent was late; my refrigerator was empty (ah! I could finally loose weight and not be a fat dancer!), and I was about to lose my car. I dog-stubbornly continued to try and build the business I had invested in, working night and day and with very little progress.
It’s a funny thing about losing it all. Suddenly I found myself questioning if the path I had chosen was perhaps not the path intended. I started thinking about dance and I felt regret for not having made different choices with my money. I had thought that investing in dance, the thing I loved more than anything, would have been a frivolous waste of money and that I would lose it all and have little to show for it.
Um. Guess what? I lost it all and have little to show for it.
And now with nothing to lose, I just want to dance. Out of the blue, a friend asked me if I would teach him private dance lessons, my first viable income of the New Year. Another friend asked me if I knew of any ballet barre classes in the area and during the conversation admitted that she didn’t really want to go because she would be the “big girl” in the class. I laughed and agreed and joked about starting a ballet barre class for fat girls. She said she would be the first to sign up.
And BalletBarre by Carrie™ was born.
My life is beginning to percolate with hidden dreams and life and I now realize why I failed and why everything went wrong. And I am dancing again. And I am dancing…fat. And I am learning to love my body as it is. And I embrace what is normally considered deficits to any dance career: my age, my weight, and my injuries. My barre class is beginning this upcoming week and it is for curvy people, older people, people with injuries or issues that compel them to be kind to their bodies, people who are new to dance, and otherwise awkward dancers.
And my limits are really catapults. I am ready to explore the challenge of mastering my body. Do I want to be skinny? Never. Do I want to feel fit? Definitely. Do I need to dance like a teen? No. Do I want to feel more energetic? Absolutely. I live in this body, this beautiful body, with fairy-ballerina arms that my mommy loved and believed in. And my body was made to dance. And so it shall.
I do not choose to dance but rather dance chooses me and I simply heed her wild and earnest beckoning.
This is my story.