Last night, I watched Black Swan again and it seemed even more haunting than when I first saw it 2 years ago. Watching it, albeit the over dramatized and hyperbole in many parts of the story, brought back way too many emotions and memories. Though many criticize the film for being unrealistic and exaggerated in its portrayal of dancers’ lives, a lot of elements and scenes are familiar: the brutal treatment of pointe shoes as part of the prep ritual and ‘breaking them in’, the feeling of isolation and competitive atmosphere, the repetitive practice until you finally get it right (or, at least until the director approves), the obsession with form and perfection, etc.
Maybe I’m just going full circle, but after 15 years since I hung up my pointe shoes and dropped ballet altogether, I miss it more than ever. I miss the hours of rigorous practice, that brutal ritual of breaking in pointe shoes, the tensed frenzy backstage—the stark contrast of the ornate details onstage with the gritty mess backstage, and I really miss (really really) the few minutes onstage, alone, with a theater full of people but barely seeing them, with the orchestra, hearing nothing but the music and your own feet whispering against the linoleum.
One scene in the film that really hit home is the part where the protagonist, Nina (Natalie Portman’s very disturbed character), practises her fouettés in her living room. If you were wondering what a fouetté is (foue—whaaat?), it’s basically a classical ballet step of turning on one leg (clockwise), much like a pirouette, and the other leg whips out like a propeller. To make the long story of my abrupt-end-to-my-lifelong-love-for-ballet short, it was the one step that I struggled with the most in all my 8 years of dancing. It was also the climax and finale of my last dance as a soloist, wherein I had to do do 18. It isn’t much compared to the 32 fouettés en tournant in Odille’s / the black swan’s coda, but it was a source of immense pressure and frustration. In the end, I never nailed it, I never completed my solo, and I never danced ballet ever again since that night.
In retrospect, I understand now that it wasn’t that my feet were weak, or my legs weren’t strong enough, or that I lacked the skill. The only thing that kept me from nailing that turn (or more than 10) was my head and my fear of failing. At that time, I was scared shitless of falling during a turn, which essentially translated to failing.
I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out if I didn’t let my fear and frustration get the better of me and just kept practicing, or perhaps allowed myself to do 10 instead of 18 and just treated myself better with a bit of patience. Or took a break instead of quitting altogether. This revisit isn’t meant to be regretful, but more of as a reminder: for whenever I’m struggling with my chaturangas (or any other pose in yoga) to just keep trying and trying and trying. Or, cut myself some slack and say, “okay not today, maybe tomorrow.”