My Body is a Metaphor

The correction I get most often in ballet class is “Bring your heart forward.”

This is supposed to help with balance.

Every time I step or hop up to relevé, I check in: chest open, sternum lifted, lats engaged, fingers soft…

“Bring your heart forward.”

…and heart forward.

Balance is my biggest struggle. I can make the right shape with my body, but I can’t stay up on relevé. Or I can get my body to spin, but I fall out of the turn.

“Bring your heart forward!”

That’s what I’m DOING damnit! But I keep falling!

There were just a handful of students in class the Thursday before summer break. This meant more attention, and more corrections.

I’m balancing in sous-sous, arms in an oval overhead, and I check in with each part as he names them: “Pelvis forward, tailbone down, tight glutes, everything’s lifted. You couldn’t even get a piece of paper between your legs!”

I’m squeezing, barely balancing, listening to the music. Oh god. There’s still a long phrase left. We’re supposed to stay up here forever. He calls it “living on half-toe.” I stop breathing, hold my breath to hold myself up. Balance! I feel something that’s supposed to be lifted start to sink.

“Bring your heart forward!”

Of course.

I open through my chest, feel suspended in space for a split-second…and then sway forward, falling off-balance catching myself on the barre. I spend the last of the music rolling through my feet, pretending I’ve just discovered something not-quite-right with that toe there. In my peripheral vision, I can see my fellow dancers, still and serene, balanced.

The music ends. The students descend. My teacher walks over to me.

“Go up again.”

I rise in the silence, squeezing every muscle into a knot.

“Bring your head back slightly.”

I do as I’m told, certain I now have a quintuple chin. It feels strange and ugly. I’m self-conscious, but my balance is better. I’m suddenly very aware of my chest.

He stands back and admires the picture. “There you go!”

I come down as gracefully as a person with five chins can. I’m warm from the effort, and the intense focus of my fellow students and teacher.

He explains that when I bring my sternum forward, my head comes forward, too. My head sticks out farther than my heart, in fact. I’m strong and flexible—that’s good—but I need to work on bringing my sternum up and forward, and tucking my chin ever so slightly. Then my heart will be the frontmost part of me.

When I get the hang of it, I should feel more balanced.

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