I love the ballet more than any other form of dance. When my sons ask who’s stronger—a football player, or Iron Man—I say probably Iron Man, but no one shows a cooler, more controlled display of strength than a dancer.
That usually excuses me from the rest of the debate.
In my house, I have to cram a lot of boy-related lore into my very female brain just to keep up and fit in. So I know a lot about superheroes. For instance:
- “Iron Man” Tony Stark trained extensively with Steve Rogers (aka Captain America).
- The Hulk weighs 1,040 lbs and can lift roughly 100 tons, while Iron Man (in armor) is 425 lbs and can lift 85 tons.
- My money’s still on Iron Man for the win, though. He has the gadgets, smarts and moxie to outlast what is basically just a strong, angry (green) guy in jean shorts.
- Meanwhile, Thor could probably beat The Thing in a battle, but he couldn’t beat Superman. (No one can beat a Kryptonian.)
I knew exactly zero of these things six years ago, before my buddies H and O came along. It’s a whole new world for me. And I love it.
Still. The hero talk has a way of exceeding its limits. When that happens, I change the subject by taking my guys to The Columbus Museum of Art. Or the Franklin Park Conservatory. And, now that they’re old enough, I can finally introduce them to the ballet—an evening of physics-defying art swathed in costumes and full orchestra. If they can teach me about Marvel Comics, the least I can do is repay them with culture.
Now it’s a Saturday night in December. I have four tickets to BalletMet’s The Nutcracker. My three guys are dressed for a night of the arts, and I can cross 36×37 assignment #22—Take My Boys to the Ballet—off the list.
When I was about 11, I decided to take up dance again after a four-year break. A few of my friends were quite serious about ballet, and I thought I could catch up with them. (Which was ridiculous. One eventually became the Principal Dancer for the Stuttgart Ballet, and the other danced for the esteemed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.)
My parents bought me the requisite leotards and dance shoes. I didn’t want to be exactly like my friends—that would be too obvious—so I took Jazz classes instead. I attended each session with enthusiasm, and while I was long on ambition and short on talent, I loved dancing. So much.
Toward the end of the season, as we practiced a routine for that year’s spring recital, my instructor, Irene, pointed to a sign on the wall. I don’t know how long it had been there—maybe it was new?—but here’s what it said, in pretty black calligraphy:
Girls should not be too well-larded
If they should come forth leotarded.
I didn’t know what “well-larded” meant. I had to look it up in my worn, red Webster’s dictionary.
I was a slender girl, and I’m a slender adult. But I was a chubby preteen. For the first time, that sign made me look outside of myself rather than focus on what was on the inside. Every woman has that moment—although maybe not so clearly defined as this. It wasn’t earth-shattering. It’s just that, suddenly, dancing wasn’t fun anymore.
H has moved from his seat behind a tall woman to my lap. He absorbs every step across the stage, and applauds mightily when the spirit moves him. Meanwhile, my sleepy, hungry O has had enough. He mutters “When will this thing be oooooooverrrrrr?” but he says it quietly, curled warmly against my side.
They’re acting the way you’d expect little boys to act at a ballet. They’re engaged, and then they’re not. But at least they’re sitting still. They dig the battle scenes, and squirm from the entrée to the coda of every pas de deux.
And I am happy.
Eventually, O begs dramatically for a drink of water, and GB takes him to find one. So it’s just H and me and a bunch of strangers, watching the Arabian dance.
Six dancers cross the stage. They’re holding yards and yards of silk, which they stretch and ripple across the smooth wooden slats of the floor. My favorite pas de deux is about to kick off. And that’s when I notice her.
She’s a Corpse dancer, but she’s not emaciated like the others. I notice that, not because she’s different, but because she’s exquisite. Flawless. If she were waifish like the others, she’d be far less beautiful in her movement.
I want to throw roses at her and shout “Brava!” I want her to take center stage. I want to congratulate her for representing health and joy along with strength and beauty.
More than anything, though, I want to chide Irene and her stupid sign and tell her she was wrong—and worse, irresponsible—to turn art into something so derivative as body mass.
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