I miss dancing like a limb. I have a phantom, dancing body that I can feel like some impossible amputee. But it’s the wider body I miss the most, the company. Not any company in particular, certainly not PNB specifically. Company. What a word! I loved hearing, “we’re having company” in the car on the way home from church. It meant warm French bread in a basket with a tea towel blanket wrapped around it. We sat around together, and my family gave memorable performances. I love company. Even Misery loves it! That’s where I find myself right now: miserable and longing for company.
I walled off so much of myself and my emotions out of pain avoidance. There is a lot that I can and do avoid. I try not to think about costumes. Pointe shoes are a whole thing. When I look in the mirror to pull my hair back in a ponytail, I sometimes see the girl who used to look at me from studio mirrors. My hairline along my neck reminds me of the constant battle against curly whisps peeling away from whatever prison of pins and gel I could construct. Every now and then, I’ll acknowledge her still there in my heart and face; I lift my chin to her, put my shoulders back, and work that epaulement for a few seconds. But, usually, I literally shake my head and spin away quickly.
Sometimes it’s old choreography, remembering a moment from some beloved ballet, watching the replay in my mind of a dance I did or a dance I loved to watch. When it’s really bad, new material comes whirling out. I choreograph on my own reflection. I see myself at 18 or 19, and I give myself assignments. I try out steps in my memory and make sure they fit to the music I hear there. I’ve learned to just let it happen. To go with it and dance in my mind for as long as I can take it. Eventually, I rattle my head like an Etch-a-Sketch and erase it. I think, though, of Rainn Wilson’s great scene in Juno, as Ellen Page shakes the positive pregnancy test that has just changed her life. “That ain’t no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, Homeskillet.” It’s the same for me. Dancing can't be undid.
But all those moments, they just graze my heart most of the time. I rarely cry. Almost never. Its when I miss company that I cry. Its when Mariah Carey sings “All I Want for Christmas is You” that I burst into sobs in the car as I remember some backstage, Nutcracker season shenanigan. Its when I watch frickin’ Pitch Perfect, Waiting for Guffman, It Might Get Loud, any musical from the 50s, pretty much any movie in which people get together and put on a show! Even some sporty movies do it! I stupidly never expect it, and at the great moment when they all stand there and rejoice together and do great and get applause, a tsunami of longing and a special kind of loneliness washes over my heart and all over my body. Salt water pours from my eyes.
I consider my loneliness special, but maybe it is not. Maybe loneliness is always very specialized. If it makes you cry, the pain has some weight to it. My burden is one of feeling like I have no one to play with. This is ironic, of course, given that I have 4 children! I play with them a lot; and truly, sometimes we put on some pretty great performances. But no one claps. Is that all it is then? I miss clapping? Feels shallow, but yes. That is part of it. It’s also the physical sensations. I’ve written about stage floors warmed by hot lights so many times… hoooooo... I get it maybe! Is THIS what people feel for holidays? Is this how tree decorating and cookie baking feel? Interesting. (I really did used to like doing the tree. That’s a post for another day.)
I heard a great quote about nostalgia from John Hodgman, of all people. He’s that guy who played “PC” in those Apple commercials and worked on The Daily Show. (I’m sure he has many other credits.) He was being interviewed on CBC by Tom Power and said: “Nostalgia is, in my opinion, the most toxic impulse because it is born of twinned delusions; 1) that the past was better, which in most cases it never was…. And 2) that you can go back into the past which, of course, is untrue because time moves in one direction.” Kind of a square thing to say, but I found it really convicting. There are so many temptations to consider the past better. My past certainly contained different kinds of good and great, but not better. How could I say “it was better then” surrounded by the wonderful life I have? And there’s no use pining for the fjords, as it were. I cannot go back. “Time moves in one direction.” And, wow, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of great stuff on the way.
So what to do with the tears. Well, cry them, I think. I miss dancing company and my dancing body, but these regrets don’t ruin the present or prove some kind of ungrateful discontent. That’s what I worry, of course. I worry that I’m a thankless brat to be crying over it still. But it’s not true. I’m very grateful. I notice fun and beauty like nobody’s business, so I’m immensely grateful over all kinds of things that I think many don’t even see. I'm working on sadness being felt and given to God but not eliciting instant, pressurized judgment for myself.
Nostalgia probably is toxic if you let it distract from the now. As the great Edna Mode said, “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now!” The past, though, informs the now. And the next. I love that I'm a dancer. I often wish I could shut-up about it, but I do love it. I love theater people. I miss that world, especially at this time of year. So cheers to ballet and theater! Cheers to nostalgia as a warm fuzzy feeling! And PAH! to nostalgia as a guiding principle! Cheers to hey-everybody-lets-put-on-a-show! And cheers to you, Reader! I appreciate you providing a mirror and audience for me to work this stuff out. Cheers to fun, art, and beauty whenever they occur!
And glory to God who is eternal and somehow encompasses all time, including mine!