At the Barre: My Story

Here she is. In all her glory. The retiré or passé that I talk about quite often. On the left you see from the ballet blog, BalletHub, what it should look like, and on the right, you see what mine on my left side, looks like.

To most, it may not seem such a big deal, but my left knee physically will not bend enough to bring my toes to the top of my knee, which is what creates a true, technically correct retiré. Not only can I not do a retiré , I can never fully sit criss-cross applesauce, I can never sit back fully on my heels, I can never do a yoga child’s pose. When sitting in a theatre and people need to cross in front of me to get out of the row, I can only tuck my legs in so far and pray they know I’m not trying to be rude. I also tend to bend over from my hips to tie my shoes because it’s easier than squatting down– this one has caused people to either poke fun or comment about it, probably out of it looking like a dancer thing, but I know that I do it because functionally, it’s easier.

So how did this happen? What do I have or not have that causes this to be my normal? And as I get into this, let me be clear, I am not a victim. I am not depressed because of my shortcomings. I am not trying to get sympathy. It’s not lost on me that I have chosen careers where I’m constantly reminded of these things and maybe that’s my vocation to share it in life, I don’t know. I am merely trying to tell my story and hopefully encourage those with physical abnormalities or limitations to understand that those things don’t have to stop you. They shouldn’t stop you.

So, when I was born, my mom had to have a C-section because I was born breech. And not only breech, I had my left leg wrapped around my head. From the tortion of my leg being in that position in the womb, my left knee and hip were developing slightly out of whack. My left femur did not sit correctly in the hip socket. This caused hip dysplasia. The ligaments connecting in my left knee were shortened, causing my kneecap to sit too high. This is called patella alta.

For example:

You’ll see above that the kneecap with patella alta sits higher along the femur(leg bone). When trying to bend at the knee, the patella(kneecap) gets stuck on the femur bone and causes limited range of motion. That’s why my leg won’t bend all the way. It doesn’t even make it to a true 90 degree angle. The ligaments in my leg keep that kneecap sitting there and even with lots of work, this is just the way my body is. You’ll see in the picture above the difference between my two legs.

With my hip dysplasia, doing a developpé on the left side as always been very difficult. To get the hip to “sit down” and stay down while the leg moves in the socket to try and lift the leg up and fold out towards my ear in a beautiful long line, has always been a lesson in humility. It just won’t happen the same as it does on my right side. And of course with all that comes a lot of unevenness in my body to work through via having to constantly compensate.

But back it up again to my birth. I had surgery at 6 months old to try and get the hip in the socket. I spent months in a spica cast. From there, the doctors told my parents that IF I walked, I would walk with a limp. But I will be grateful for this every day of my life, my parents NEVER let me believe I couldn’t do anything. They let me dance, they let me move, they put me in dance at three and because of the physicality of dance, I know it helped me grow stronger and move normally. Turns out I had a passion for it and even with the shortcomings I wouldn’t stop. At age 7, we were driving up to Atlanta a few days a week so I could keep dancing and learning and progressing towards my dreams of being a professional ballet dancer. But throughout all this I was increasingly aware that my inability to do certain things could potentially prohibit me from having a career.

But honestly? As a student, more often than not, I ignored my shortcomings. Sure I did physical therapy and stretches to try and break up scar tissue, build strength, and create a better range of motion, but in class, I would rush through movements that showed the things I couldn’t do. I’d take more time in a port de bras in the middle of the combination so I could rush through a developpé. I tried to hide it. In auditions I would stand in the back because I didn’t want people to notice. As I got older and began attending summer intensives, I would have to go up to every teacher at the beginning of class and tell them about my situation. That’s a very humbling experience when these are teachers you’ve watched and admired in videos and have only heard about and dreamed of being yourself, and you want nothing more than to please them. Then, before you ever do a single step, you are having to tell them there are things you can’t do. Whether I was 11, 15, or 18 at Colorado Ballet explaining this to my bosses, it never got easier.

Then something happened while I was at Colorado Ballet, I realized about two years in that I had done it. That even with my shortcomings I was a professional. I had something to offer and I had something to say and I was being paid for it. I don’t know if at that time I knew that I deserved to be paid for it, but I was being paid to do it, and that helped my psyche. That helped me realize that I had spent my whole life afraid that people would know what was wrong. That I was afraid that they’d see it and scoff at it. That in class, any time we’d do something to the left, I was afraid that anyone that didn’t know me and my situation, would judge me.

Even last week, I stood onstage at a Pure Barre Pop Up Class and had to stand in front of 75 people and do a workout. Even though I teach people to do modifications if they need to, and I do them myself in class, I was stressed beforehand that we would do certain exercises and because I can’t do certain positions, 75 clients might end up doing it incorrectly too.

But in that stress, I said shove it. I should be nothing but proud. Every single person has something about their bodies that they are combating. For some, it’s short term. For others, long term. Mine has followed me my whole life, and while I may have been stressed about it at times, or worried, or incapable of certain things, it has never stopped me from moving forward. I can’t say that I’ve never used it as an excuse, but I have never used it as an excuse to not succeed.

But here today, I am posting a picture of that passé that for so many years I’ve hated or felt strange about. Here today I am owning that that is no one’s passé but my own. That because it’s mine and because I have had to be conscious of it my whole life ,it has built and developed my character (yup, that character development joke should be inserted here). And while I spent so long hating it, today, I am deciding to show it off. It’s a part of my history and my future. It’s here in my present, and it’s time that I never hide from it again. So in case you missed it. LOOK.

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