I've been thinking about ballet. I don't like disliking things without being able to articulate why, especially when it's so clearly a matter of opinion. I mean, no one really likes serial spree murders, but lots of people like ballet, so obviously this is not something of unmitigated horror.

I took ballet classes until I was maybe ten, and then I put my foot down and refused to do anymore. Even my mother wasn't going to pay for something I wouldn't attend, and I was fine with taking tap and jazz lessons, so there was only a little bit of a fight. I remember being some combination of bored and frustrated. Frustrated because there was obviously something I wasn't getting, because I felt constantly corrected for things I couldn't even see, and bored because they wouldn't explain it any other way or let me switch to something I had a better grip on so I could make some sort of progress.

Ballet is, in large part, an art of control. The strength and balance you get is admirable, but there is a lot of rigidity in the description of movements. There is a right way to do everything, and any deviations are the wrong way; the ballerina is not encouraged to use her judgement in deciding how, exactly, to perform. I still do pirouettes and rondes des jambes and other things like that, but I'm not particularly fussy about where my arms are or where I'm looking, as long as the movement I actually care about -- usually the legs -- looks right. They're idle drills more than anything.

Most ballerinas are perfectly normal people. If you meet a lot of serious bunheads, though, you start to notice that when they do snap, they all snap the same way. Lots of eating disorders and obsessive perfectionism. The ideal ballerina is sylph-like and weightless. This is obviously impossible -- real human beings are always going to have mass. It's a challenge you're automatically going to fail. Other people must get a sense of achievement from continuing to struggle -- or feel like they're wresting control back by defying reality and doing exactly what everyone is sure they can't -- but I never did. I've dealt with enough no-win situations in my life that purposely putting myself in another one holds no appeal.

Come to that, all the dance critiques I can remember that even as a child struck me as someone bitching that I wasn't doing the impossible came from ballet class. It's one thing to be told you're missing a strike in the middle of a tap sequence or you're off-beat somewhere in the sixth measure; that's pretty concrete, and that matters when performing. It's another thing entirely to be told something like 'you're landing too heavily'. I can practice the leap until it looks easy, but I'm still going to weigh actual pounds, and if you want me to do it like that, all of those actual pounds are going to land on that one foot. The laws of physics say so.

I was last a ballerina years before the Puberty Fairy visited, but that does bring up another point I find objectionable. Ballet still runs on a very 19th c. aesthetic. Previously, the ideal for female dancers was something like 'pliable but womanly'. Ballerinas are supposed to be very tiny, delicate, slender and, philosophically, have an innocence that transcends the mere physical world. They are not supposed to be perceived as sexy or sexual, even when they dance in skin-tight costumes and quite blatantly have their feet waving around over their heads. Several of the burlesque dancers are classically-trained ballerinas, and they are well aware that they're transgressing badly by performing in toe shoes and pasties.

This would not work for me. I would never be dainty and bird-like even if I starved myself; I have wide shoulders and broad hips. I will never not jiggle. I'm fine with this. The jiggling tends to get positive feedback out in the real world. Since dance is all about getting your movements to look like you want them to, this means I would be doing it wrong even if I were technically doing it entirely right. That pretty much kills off any appeal of trying.

I think it really just boils down to I'm allergic to rule systems that give you a lot of arbitrary constraints, and then discourage use of creativity to compensate for the restrictions. I'm pretty inured to the media messages about weight and appearance that we hear so much about, but ballet is one of the few places I can recall ever being told, essentially, that I was too big and lumbering and that was wrong. Really does not make me want to go back and please the community that said that.

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