Wondering About Joy


Last night we went to The Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet.

It was Duke's first time, and super sweet. Hashtag joy.

We scored some killer cheapie obscured-view seats right up front, literally next to the orchestra pit, so close to the stage that you could see the dancers high-fiving one another backstage as the curtain came down on the first act.

(So we missed a few things stage left. No biggie.)

Little man could look down and watch the harpist get smoke blown in her face as it billowed off the front of the stage into the pit. Pretty rad.

I love seeing live theater with him. (If you've recently lived with a three-year-old, you know watching a show is about the only time they sit still for more than 10 minutes.) So it felt luxurious for the three of us to just be quiet together and soak up the lights and the costumes and the music and the choreography. And I enjoyed this production so much. (That bigass dancing bear! The sugar plum costumes! The Russian jumps!)

But I found myself wondering about joy. Whether there was much real joy there behind the brittle smiles. Wondering

...which of those dancers was pushing through injury?

...which was bearing intense pain and walked offstage only to exhale in relief?

...which hadn't eaten anything today?

...which couldn't afford their rent because it's too hard to live in the city as a working artist?

...which doesn't have health insurance?

...which is 35 and aging out of the ballet world and wondering the hell comes next?

These days, in the yoga world, most voices and studios are at least trying to give lip-service to the whole body-positive movement. You know, that whole idea that you don't have to be one particular body type to practice or serve; that "every body is a yoga body."

But those ballet dancers were strictly body-fat-free. I could see every carved muscle there from our seats overlooking the pit. There was no one bigger than a size 4 jumping around on that stage. And I found myself wondering what the little kids in the audience were absorbing, soaking up a production full of taut, vaguely-prepubescent, muscled bodies, all under the age of 40.

Do they already assume they don't belong there?

What kind of world is that? Definitely a niche one.

And that's ok, in some ways. That's what you've got to be to make it as a professional ballerina, I guess, the raw materials, just like it's pretty much a requirement to be tall to be a basketball player, or bulky if you're an offensive lineman.

But it made me grateful for the working-to-be-inclusive space that yoga provides. It made me grateful that I didn't need to retire and find another gig when I turned 38. And it gave me sympathy for the dancers I know and love who have found a more holistic, nourishing home in modern dance or yoga or Pilates instead of classical ballet.

Being a professional whose body is your instrument means taking extra-conscious care of it, oftentimes skipping that last cocktail in favor of bed, and sometimes, choosing to let your body suffer for your art. I guess the questions I have for all of us body-based professionals are: where is that sacrificial line; when do you know you've crossed it; and where does the joy fit in?


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