(bal­let danc­ing)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Cyn­thia Pick­er­ing Re­view this­life@theaustralian.com.au

My ex-Aus­tralian hockey team sur­geon re­cently dropped the A-word. “Arthroscopy. At least it’s not a re­con­struc­tion.” “Yeah, there’s al­ways next time,” I re­ply in jest. “Re­ally, Doc, can’t we just go with physio and a high dose of naproxen, like we did with the hip?”

“Well, do you want to keep up the bal­let? You could stick with swim­ming and take up yoga in­stead.”

Spare me the con­so­la­tion prize, dear doc­tor, in this ex­pen­sive ex­change. I’m not the blocked artist type likely to run away to join the yo­gis! Why, I’d have to re­nounce my van­ity, en­durance, ad­dic­tion to process, hi­er­ar­chy and math­e­mat­i­cal com­bi­na­tions. I couldn’t leave the men­tal dis­ci­pline be­hind, least of all my ego.

“Book it in,” I say. “Can we do it this af­ter­noon?” He laughs. I try to laugh but I can’t.

It is nearly 40 years since I learned to waltz, mazurka, taran­tella, jig, polon­aise and horn­pipe. I thrived wide-hearted with the other kids of me­diocre tal­ent. Mem­o­ris­ing en­chain­ment, turn­ing out tight, poised bod­ies, keep­ing tempo with the mu­sic was a con­stant ad­ven­ture. Noth­ing else flexed my brain quite the same way.

School days lin­gered as I waited for bal­let class. Dress­ing in the back of the car, I’d stretch my leo­tard over sticky ny­lons in the re­morse­less sum­mer heat — like the di­lap­i­dated theatre dress­ing rooms of my fu­ture, the Kingswood had no air-con­di­tion­ing.

I’d polka into a cold, un­even floored church hall. It soon warmed with the clunky melodies be­stowed on the du­bi­ously tuned pi­ano, played by an old lady who we imag­ined had al­ways been old.

My teacher adored bal­let and so did I. She also knew a dance ca­reer in my West Aus­tralian home town meant slink­ing as a skimpy along a jaded ho­tel bar at Fri­day arvo knock-off. She gen­er­ously shared an art that took me far, far away from this weary place. I’ve heard it said, “You don’t re­tire from bal­let; bal­let re­tires you”.

Count­less bal­letomanes were taught by the cranky ec­cen­tric, who would prod and poke, smoke and shout over the mu­sic. Some kids would quit when the body grew “all wrong” or the pas­sion waned with the pres­sure of per­fec­tion. Oth­ers had par­ents who sim­ply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take them to bal­let.

We adults re­turn to bal­let a mixed bag of cau­tion and naivety. We place our hope rev­er­en­tially in our teacher’s hands. Through sprains and strains we grace­fully and ex­u­ber­antly age col­lec­tively in front of a mir­ror that never lies. And we are the hap­pi­est group of peo­ple I know.

Let’s clean that knee out fast, Doc. Get me back on the boards where this ripened, cre­ative spirit can breathe again.

wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to In which year did Jackie French re­ceive the Se­nior Aus­tralian of the Year award? The 2008 movie on the life of which per­son? Who were the two deputy prime min­is­ters un­der Paul Keat­ing?

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