For the last five days, there’s been a sensual selfie challenge going on via Instagram. And I decided to join it. The entire purpose of the sensual selfie challenge is to encourage womxn to take up space in their own worlds, to embrace their sensuality, and to own their own sexual power. And it was magical – watching so many womxn from all different walks of life stepping up to the challenge, loving their bodies, standing in their power, and encouraging others to do the same.
During that same five day period, something else happened on Instagram. New Orleans Ballet Theatre made a post that they were auditioning and hiring professional ballet dancers for their production of The Nutcracker. And I saw it. And instead of quickly and painfully scrolling past it as I usually do when I come across a ballet post, I stopped. I read it. And I had visions of Sugar Plums all over again.
If you’re not familiar with my story, I had been a professional ballet dancer. I fell in love with ballet when I was two years old, and at two, I KNEW without a doubt, that that was what I would do with my life. I briefly danced professionally in New York City, but then my body began to fall apart. I was sick and none of the doctors could tell me what was happening or why. I eventually lost control of my body and was forced into early retirement. And I was devastated. I felt so lost without ballet.
It has been eight years since I retired from dancing. And throughout those eight years, I’ve done my best to pick myself up, to redefine myself, and to once again find a purpose in life. But that hole in my heart where ballet used to be never quite healed.
Around a year ago I finally received a diagnosis. I went through a homeopathic treatment and dramatically changed my already quite healthy diet and lifestyle. And I’ve got my symptoms fairly under control. So when I saw the NOBT post I thought to myself “This is it. This could be my last chance to dance.”
I had a friend drive me out to the suburbs to the dance shop to get fitted for new pointe shoes. I went to the yoga center (where I teach) after we had closed for the night and gave myself a modified barre, center, and pointe class (and then took myself home for a long, long, soak in an epsom salt bath.)
The next morning I took my first ballet class. In eight years. (Ok that might be a slight exaggeration… I might have taken like two classes in the past eight years… but one of them doesn’t count because it was so strange… they didn’t even do pliés at the barre. WTF) I was expecting a lot of emotions to come up during my first class back. I was expecting love, joy, passion, excitement, freedom, pain, sadness, good memories, bad memories… but only one feeling came up the entire time: pain. I felt the pain in my hips that had caused my retirement when I tried to developé. I felt the pain in my toes with each relevé en pointe. I felt pain in my soul when all of the “I’m not good enoughs” came flooding back to me. “I’m not skinny enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not turned out enough…” I left the class in tears.
I’d like to say that I’ve spend enough time doing and teaching yoga to have a strong enough connection with my own self worth to transcend my ballet experience. I’d like to say that I recognize my own divinity, and after my ballet class I treated myself in loving and wholesome ways that are worthy of the goddess that I am. But that’s not what happened.
It took a lot of soul searching. A lot of questioning my own self doubt. A lot of support from friends and fellow dancers. A lot of meditation. (There also might have been some guidance from a sacred psychedelic plant medicine. Maybe.) And it took being surrounded by a community of womxn, even though they were strangers, coming together and declaring their self worth. Demanding respect and love first from themselves, and then from the world. They showed their strengths, their vulnerabilities, their passions, their loves, their wounds, and their recoveries. They showed that in a broken world, they could be whole. And we can be whole together.
And as silly as it sounds, an online selfie challenge (and friends, and meditation, and psychedelics- thank you to all) helped me find peace within my self. I finally realized that there is no need for me to be in this much pain. That ballet does not honor my body. And for the first time I CHOSE to let ballet be in the past. It wasn’t doctors or artistic directors or my body’s inability to function forcing me out of ballet. It was me. And I am finally starting to accept that ballet is a thing of my past. That it is something that I love dearly, but is not healthy for me, and it is ok to love, to leave it in the past, and to continue forward.
I still have moments where I second guess myself and consider going to the audition, but for the most part, I am at peace with my decision to honor my body and my spirit. I have so much gratitude for the role that ballet has played in my life. It is a foundation that will always be there. And I am so grateful for the brave womxn who participated in the sensual selfie challenge who are a constant reminder that I am worthy of so much more. We all are.
I hope that this can be an inspiration, just as you all have been an inspiration to me. Thank you.
Below are the photos that I took for the sensual selfie challenge, along with each day’s affirmation prompt.
Day 1 “I am a dazzling beam of light. I celebrate myself and bask in my divinity. I am a gift to and from the universe.”
Day 2 “I vow to honor and hold space for my body’s individual beauty in infinite ways, till death do us part.”
Day 3 “My body is a good body regardless of what outside opinions and standards dictate. I am thankful for my body and all it does for me even when I do not treat it as well as I would like. I deserve to give love, kindness, and respect to myself. I am beautiful from every angle, but I do not need to be beautiful to be of value.”
Day 4 “My sensuality is mine to own.”
Day 5 “When I am soft, I am strong. When I am connected to my senses, my body, my breath, my sexuality, I am powerful. When I let my sensual light shine and be visible, I become a beacon of healing and representation for others. I give them permission to access the soft, bold, vulnerable, unashamed parts of themselves. I will keep nurturing and deepening this relationship I’ve created with my sensuality because I know that when I give spaces for my softness, I empower and I heal.”
And some outtakes, from when I came home late at night after work and had one hour left to get the photos in before midnight… because for some reason I thought I cared about deadlines…
Taken on iPhone 6. New Orleans, LA