What Shape Are You?

When I was accepted into the Harkness Ballet Company, I didn’t sleep that night. I was a sixteen-year-old ballerina filled with bubbles and ambrosia. Champagne and caviar at the Russian Tea Room. Chocolate mousse at Rumplemayer’s. I took a triumphant horse and carriage ride through Central Park and walked along Fifth Avenue with my fellow dancers, tipsy with accomplishment and victory. We
grinned at each other. There wasn’t much to say. It had been a successful liftoff and the four of us were standing on the moon.  

It hadn’t come easy. I’d trained, bled, sweated, cried and trained some more and I’d made the cut. No more wondering if my dream of being a professional ballerina would come true. It just had. I wasn’t a trainee any more. I stared at the clock radio on my bedside table. I’d been a full fledged member of the Harkness Ballet for eight hours.

That was in the sixties. When we went into quarantine in March, 2020, many decades later, I sat down at my computer to write. For me, writing is the most satisfying and miraculous when it flows out with no boundaries or immediate purpose. It’s about following a stream of consciousness and that was what I did. No specific chapters or theme. No time zones. No good our bad. No stressing to get it right.

One day, when I stopped tapping the keys and sat back to review my my pages, I realized that I’d been writing about the phases of my life that shaped me and made me who I am today. My career and relationship choices. How one phase of my life informed the next. What was gone and what had endured. Who helped me and who hurt me. Who and what were responsible for the decisions I made that molded me into the person that I am today.

The ballet, the thing I had done since I was eight and into my twenties, was front and center. The photographs amaze me. I seem to be doing a lot of writing about the ballet these days because my time as a dancer was the greatest influence of my life. It gave me strength and resilience It formed me physically as well as emotionally and mentally. It gifted me with discipline and stamina. It took me to extraordinary places like Spoleto, Italy, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. I danced at the White House. I met President and Ladybird Johnson, Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev and Salvador Dali.

But deep down in my foundation, although my journey was exciting and unique, I had experienced great loneliness, something that I still haven’t entirely shaken. I didn’t date, I didn’t take vacations and I had no idea what the real world was like. My adult relationships were affected by the fact that as a teenager, I had little life experience and no way of judging whom or what was good or bad for me. While the other girls were putting their hair in rollers, giggling at dances and talking on and on about boys, I was fastening my hair in a bun,
rehearsing all day in a studio, being lifted high in the air by very strong men and performing in front of hundreds of people.

As the years pass and I think about my accomplishments and my failures, my goals and my disappointments, I can see how each phase of my life shaped the next. I’ve parlayed the focus and discipline from the ballet to my writing career. I’ve transformed the daily hour and half ballet classes into daily writing sessions. They are my form of meditation, my way of getting inside myself and working toward excellence, something that is very familiar to me. Putting fingers on the computer keys is like resting my hand on the ballet barre. Starting a story and seeing where my thoughts lead me is like warming up with plies and battements. I’m still the same person on the same path, but I’ve taken up different forms of

We are all shaped by our pasts but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for what we got. While we need to know who we are and what we want, when we say “That’s just the way I am,” we’re putting ourselves into a box. We have choices. We can reshape our lives. We can untwist the pretzel, make changes in our minds and
hearts and embody great compassion. We can burst the bubble that encircles us and free our hearts. We can get up instead of collapsing. We can stop looking down and begin looking forward. We can move through our fears and discover that maybe they weren’t so scary after all.

“I’m in love with the shape of you,” sings Ed Sheeran. When I hear those lyrics, I think not only externally but also internally. I look further than the curve of a belly, the length of a calf muscle or the color of someone’s eyes. I think of how our thoughts determine how we talk. How our intentions shape our posture and the way we walk into a room. Best of all, I think about the shape of two people
hugging each other, arms encircling bodies and the warmth and safety that allows us to melt into someone we love.