It’s hard for people I encounter now to believe I was ever a ballet dancer cause I’m no longer a size 0 and my hobbies and passions have changed a lot over the years making it pretty impossible to picture. Cat flitting around a stage? The same Cat who bails on drinks downtown but calls in sick to work to go hiking? Who could even picture my grumpy ass hoisting a tutu and putting on a sparkling smile in front of an audience? I was a sparkly kid, what can I say? I even picked it up again in college, trying to relearn all the techniques (after 7 years away from it) and got pretty far until I just just stopped going because life got in the way. In fact that was my reason for quitting the first time and I’ve regretted both decisions every day since.
Ballet was something that came naturally to me for some reason. At 5 years old it gave me a lovely outlet for my energetic muscles and it put me on the fast track to appreciating OCD level symmetry, balance and precision. Through learning the choreography I developed keen memorization techniques that grew into the near-photographic memory I have now. Ballet taught me to both calculate and feel music, long before I learned read music or play an instrument It taught me how to deeply understand the true limitations of my body. But most conveniently it taught me how to think like a designer and an entrepreneur. I’ll explain, bear with me.
THE DISCIPLINE FACTOR
Only few people in the world will be able to truly relate to this comparison of two hyper-specific situations, but here goes.
See ballet dancers have many of the same goals when approaching a number that translates pretty perfectly to the goals a designer would have.
Make this look as effortless as possible.
Remember to include everything that is required in the right order
Execute on time and correctly.
Match your movements to the music so the appear as one.
Lead the desired feeling and emotion of the audience on every move/part.
Make that step your BEST version of that step.
When you’re done your audience should be speechless.
Don’t fuck up.
Ok that last one is really just the dancer but the other 8 are very easily applied to design. There’s also a bonus goal too that is the root of what sparked the desire for this post…
Keep going. Make it to the end. If you turn the wrong way, try and save it. Every moment is an opportunity to adjust. Oh yea, and if it hurts? Good.
** TANGENT ALERT — That bonus one is the voice of my favorite ballet teacher and still one of my favorite humans. I can still hear her South African accent shrieking at me when I walk to work hunched down the sidewalk with my backpack. She kicked my ass and I still thank her for it. She taught me the most out of all my teachers. She’d whack your ankles with a stick if you weren’t constantly turning out. She’d yell the numbers 1-8 so loud in your ear over and over until your were perfectly on top of the beat. She also made me see and appreciate my body for what it could do and I never left a class not feeling accomplished. And I love her for that. **
BECAUSE IT LEADS ME TO…
Ok so here’s the kicker. The photograph of my old pointe shoes is above and the thoughts that prompted me to take them out of the box was a lightbulb moment I may have been waiting on for years. I was packing up my Raleigh apartment being faced with voluntary homelessness while trying to grow one business, start another and build a tiny house. I was stressed out and not doing much thinking really. But my brain made a connection and I couldn’t help dwelling on it for a bit. Being a ballet dancer was a HUGE contributor to how I think, design, and run my life as a whole, and find value in certain things.
HOW THE 26 YEAR OLD ME WAS MADE
I learned very early that Ballet is not there to help you. Ballet is not a ‘chill’ shift job where it doesn’t matter if you show up drunk or not. Ballet isn’t a 3 year span in your early 20’s of “I’m just living it up for a bit before I have to start really job hunting”. Ballet isn’t an “I’ll do it in the morning” excuse. Ballet is 99% pain, stress, stiffness, muddled thinking, intense fatigue, blood, unrelenting amounts of baby powder clumped by your sweat, twinges in deep muscle groups you didn’t know you had, the music whizzing by at 140 bpm and your foot refusing to to do one. more. Fuete.
It’s 1% of your pure blissful best. When you look at your self in the studio mirror or see the looks from your teacher. Your brain goes white. That teeny sliver of JUST DOING IT RIGHT is what Ballet is. I was no professional and I by no means was the best but when that white flash of accomplishment happened for a split second the majority of pain and suffering didn’t matter. You felt perfect. For 5 seconds. Then you had to catch your breath and resume bleeding into your shoe to try and do it twice.
ITS PERFECTLY CLEAR
Ballet teaches you how to contort your body into the most beautiful shapes, but turn your foot the wrong way and suddenly you’re a troll and turn it slightly wrong the other way and your in a cast for 6 months. Everything is a fine line between enlightened beauty and trolldom/broken-foot-land. But it’s a practice not a math formula. Even professional dancers practice ALL THE TIME. Because even THEY look at their work and are like, “aw hell!”… AGAIN!
It is that methodical and humbling discipline drilled into my developing brain ages (5-15) that allowed me to jump at the chance to work for free in a marketing department (when I was beyond broke) without thinking twice. It’s why I would watch YouTube videos on my lunch break about how Google Analytics worked. It’s why I would stay up until 2 in the morning teaching myself how to use certain features of Adobe Illustrator. To get better and faster. I was saving the turn. I was bleeding into my shoes but I was ‘keeping going’. It was hurting and yet I still knew it was the best thing for me.
THE MUSIC IS STILL PLAYING FOLKS!
In life there is no, ‘AGAIN!’ loudly shouted at you when you dropped your arms below fifth and have go to the other side of the rom to try your combo over again. Life is the 99% and there are some 1% moments in there but a person has to learn to love the 99. Precisely and clearly dancing head-on into a career field and life situations I felt I was perfect for but had barely any skills in? Yea I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I’ve been rewarded with those moments of white vision for 5 seconds. When the business I created the brand for opened for the first time. When clients compliment my work. When people look at me with a look of shock when I tell them what I’m doing with my life and that being the reason why no I probably am not going to that dinner downtown tomorrow night.
In honor of this superb connection I put my favorite foot, into my favorite old pair or pointe shoes (My third pair. They got the most wear and tear but they always seemed to be the most perfectly broken-in pair) Threw on some tulle and had a little flashback of all the white flashes of perfection I had in these shoes.