From my unlearnt perspective, the principal dancer was exquisite, moving her long, strong limbs from one willful, graceful pose to the next, drawing tears to, but not quite over the rims of my eyes.
My mother, however, knows ballet. She began practicing at age eleven and was a professional dancer with the Milwaukee Ballet Company by fifteen. During intermission, she and I made our way out of the aisle and to the bar for a glass of wine. As is often done during intermissions, we began exchanging our perspectives on the performances of the dancers thus far. But Mom, on top of having practiced dance rigorously herself, had attended a showing of the Nutcracker in New York last year. She was, not surprisingly, fighting disappoint with this performance.
But we soon began talking about ballet in general. We’d talked about ballet before—about the terrors of her dance master, the long afternoons at the studio, and the late nights finishing neglected homework, all she’d endured to become as good as she had. But never before had she expressed to me why she loved it. She’d say she’d loved it and that was acceptable to me. It is an obviously beautiful art form. But after I told her how the movements of the principal had brought tears to my eyes and vainly attempted to articulate the joy I’d felt experiencing the beauty of her performance, my mom said something that was, to me, rather profound. She said she had dearly loved working so hard to form her body into such beautiful poses.
The image will stick with me as long as images can – the image of a dancer working day after day, brow wet with sweat, toes bloody from the rock hard point slippers, almost breaking under the pressure of a strict diet combined with rigorous daily exercise. The image of a dancer enduring all of this in order to see her body, under the direction of some master craftsman, transformed into something beautiful, something worthy of the world’s applause. After my mom had spoken these words, my heart melted with the satisfaction of knowing exactly why I’d been moved to tears, why I am ever moved to tears when I encounter beauty in this broken world. It is a picture of what I long for under the direction of Jesus. His blood was spilt in order to reform me, to reform us – His bride – back into the very heights of beauty, His image.
My mom dancing The Dream Sequence in Oklahoma (left) and Stars and Stripes Forever (right).