The Stoic Ballerina
In one week’s time I had a cold that dragged me down into my bed, a mother whose illness lifted my heart in prayer, a prayer answered that bowed my head humbly in gratitude, a plane, a friend, a ballet, and a big apple of a city that sent my spirits soaring to the stars, and finally, a landing that placed my feet and my perspective firmly at the center of who I want to be. All in that order. All in one week.
This life is unpredictable, but who we are in it is up to us. As you well know by now, I always come back to my movement practice when such life lessons ring and chime. I was thinking about how Pilates, and especially ballet, prepare one for those events that require a quick spin from this direction to that, a surplus of determination in the face of challenges, and an overall sense of who you are in the movement, keeping your center, your balance.
The lesson: the movement is not me, I am in the movement, and as I flow with it I am learning, growing, and bettering myself.
One could easily draw a parallel between ballet to the philosophy of Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy established by the pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno. Stoics believe that circumstances will always be in flux around us, but who we are in that flux is the important thing. In ballet and/or Pilates, you may be handed an exercise that at first impression you think to yourself, “This is impossible! I will never master this.” But you try… and you try, and you try, and in these efforts, you realize that indeed, you can! And if it so occurs that after all of that “try” you can’t entirely master the task, you accept that nature wishes other things of you, and that is ok too. Nothing is lost in the learning. You have brought your best.
So, you see, the one thing we have control over is how we encounter the moment, the lesson, the heartache, the joy. Our attitude is not just everything, it is the only thing we have at times. Whether it is holding the hand of a sick loved one, or finding the nuances of an arabesque, we are present. We are bringing our best and accepting that the circumstances around us may not be in our control, but who we are in those circumstances is important. This, my friends, is why I embrace my ballet and Pilates practice with more than just my feet and my core, but with my heart and soul. It asks the best of me each and every class, and by sharpening the ability to find the best of me in a studio, I am able to access this when life is swirling around me.
Embrace the work that you are doing at the barre or on the mat, because you are not just honing physical skills or toning your body, you are also strengthening your inner Stoic, and to do so prepares you for this adventure we call life. Enjoy!
“Well-being is realized by small steps, but truly no small thing” - Zeno
Giselle in Act 2 choosing love, despite the tragedy she has endured.