Two nights ago, a favored ice dancer in the Olympics, Gabriella Papadakis, had a wardrobe malfunction. The fear and upset in her face reminded me of various missteps I made when I was in the ballet. The French couple won the Gold anyway but she’ll never forget the dread of her costume falling off her chest. She called it her worst nightmare. I can relate.
A personal pitfall still makes me cringe long after I retired from the ballet. We were on stage in Maine, I was 17, when the ankle knot in my toe shoe ribbons came undone. I felt it loosen around my ankle and go flying all over the place. I kept on dancing, praying that I wouldn’t trip myself and cause me further embarrassment. Like being in the military, dancers need to be impeccable as we check zippers, straps, and make sure our toe shoe ribbon knots are so tight, they indent our Achilles tendons. A dancer is a team player and any mistake impacts the entire ballet company. The onus of my mistake was on me, I took responsibility, but I cried myself to sleep that night, feeling like I’d let everyone down.
I did memorable performances all over the world during my ballet career that went smoothly and perfectly. But the night that my ribbons betrayed me and I felt that I betrayed my fellow dancers will remain forever etched in my mind. It begs the question – Why is it easier to remember failure than successes? Why does a glitch in the works imprint the mind more than a show of excellence? It takes guts and grit to keep going when your costume malfunctions, you fall on stage, or your toe shoe ribbons go flying. The punishing training builds grit and the constant performing takes guts. We all have our war stories but just like a soldier doesn’t retreat, and a gymnast gets back up on the balance beam after a shattering fall, we have to keep on going. That’s what we all need to do in the world today. This, too, shall pass, but in the meantime the search for excellence in a dubious world is a worthy goal, no matter the outcome. And honoring our successes as much as we rue our mistakes is part of what makes us feel like very good soldiers.