51 Things Only Ballet Dancers Understand

by Kate Ward

Ten years and 20 pounds ago, I called myself a ballet dancer. Weeknights and weekends were dedicated to frappés instead of friends, and summers were filled with 8-hour workshops instead of 8-hour workdays. The art might not have set my financial future up well (those workshops worked quite a hole in my family's pocket), but I'd like to think it set me up as a human being. Ballet taught me patience and hard work, and that striving for perfection could be a beautiful thing.

So I continued to chassé to class, well after I quit my company when college applications got in the way, and well after I traded in dance for a far less physically taxing art form, writing. And even though my soul shrivels every time I hear an audience member opening a snack while watching Swan Lake at Lincoln Center (concessions at the ballet? Really?!), my heart still flutters while hearing the overture, remembering the excited bustle (ha!) backstage before every performance.

And I'm surely not the only dancer — past or present — who has that familiar feeling. In fact, part of the reason I loved ballet was for the company in the literal company, a group of men and women who understood how it felt to finally land a triple pirouette or ungracefully gasp for breath after a difficult combination (but only backstage, of course). And who also happen to understand these other things:

No, No, I Said "Ballet Dancer," Not "Belly Dancer."

Every. Single. Time.

Clear Nail Polish Is the Ultimate Accessory.

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For that run in your tights, the ends of your pointe shoe laces, the ends of your ballet shoe elastic bands, and, oh, it looks pretty good on your nails too.

Ballet Was More Effective Than Home Ec.

Where learning how to sew properly was a matter of life and broken ankles.

Heaven On Earth

That moment when you're allowed to graduate from lambs wool to gel pads.

Hell On Earth.

The moment after you take off your shoes and still see your feet covered in blisters. Not the New Skin! Please, anything but the New Skin! Oh, the pain!

First, You Learned Your "ABCs," Then Your "123s," Then Your "Plié, Plié, Grand Pliés."

ABC... as easy as 1, 2, 3... ABC, 1, 2, 3, baby, plié, plié.

Your Arch Was Never Good Enough.


And it most certainly wasn't as good as Stuttgart Ballet principal Anna Osadcenko's.

Neither Was Your "Turn-Out."

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And you spent hours in this position in a vain attempt to improve it.

But The Only Word Worse Than "Turn-Out" Is "Adagio."

Another développé to the back? Really?!

Swings FTW!

The barre equivalent of "weeeeeee!"

"Glissade" and "Assemblé" are the Brad and Angie of Ballet Moves.

Always together, never apart.

It Goes: 1) A Good Book on the Beach, 2) A Frolic in an Open Field, 3) A Grand Jeté Across the Floor

There are few more freeing feelings. The fact that it signified that the end of class was near didn't hurt either.

As a Pre-Teen, You Looked Up to Darci Kistler.

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And you devoured her pretty and pink autobiography.

As a Teen, You Looked Up to Martha Graham.

She just shared all of your feelings.

And, In Your Twenties, You Simply Look Up To Any Ballerina Who Still Has Got It.

How can you still do side splits, Gillian Murphy?!

Discount Dance Supply Promised to Save You Money, But You Always Walked Away With An Awesome, But Unnecessary, Pair of Leg Warmers.

Whatever hides the fact that I'm bending my knee during this arabesque, shh!

Because Your Teacher Would Never Let You Wear Them

Because they know that you're wearing them to hide the fact that you're bending your knee during that arabesque, tsk.

Wearing Full Sole Shoes and Footed Tights Took You On an Express Trip to Loserville.

It's gotta be Sansha split sole and convertible Capezios all the way, baby.

Same With Wearing Tights Under Your Leotard. Psh.

Add a pink wrap skirt? Absolutely not.

Garbage Bag Shorts Looked Like a Bottom 3 Project Runway Design, But You Loved Them Anyway.

You found a way to make them work.

For Those Who Hit Puberty, Long-Sleeve Leotards Were a Must.

Spaghetti straps simply do not provide enough support during those changements.

How It Felt the First Time You Were On Pointe.

Top of the world, ma! And I could stay up here forever!

How It Felt Immediately After.

Art is extreme, very bad pain.

Because It Made Your Feet Look Like This...

Gives a whole new meeting to cutting it up on the dance floor.

Which Led To This...

No! No! Not the New Skin!

In Fact, You Stopped Dancing a Decade Ago, and You Still Have Blisters From Pointe

Say goodbye to peep toe heels forever.

Brand-New Pointe Shoes Are Beautiful.

But undanceable.

So They Must Suffer.

Bend 'em, beat 'em, even microwave 'em. Whatever you need to do to break 'em.

And So Must Your Wallet.

At least $65 per pair x at least 12 new pairs per year = well, there goes December's rent!

In Fact, Your Closet Looks Like a Pointe Shoe Cemetery.

Rest in Ca-peace-io. (Heh.)

You Never Truly Appreciated the Beauty of Live Accompaniment in Every Class.

But neither did your teacher, who would yell at the pianist about exactly when she began her eight count.

Your First Tutu Was More Exciting Than Your First Kiss.

But felt just as awkward.

The Worst Smell In the World

You want to check my bag before I get on the subway, NYPD? Are you sure?

You Still Can Dance The Nutcracker From Beginning to End.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

And you did that very thing daily during the holidays after popping this CD into your stereo.

Mostly Because You Played Every Part.

Even the lobster. Suck it, Balanchine. Our Nutcracker was cooler.

To You, Giselle Will Always Be More Beautiful than Gisele.

Sorry for the burn, Bündchen.

But Your Arms Could Have Lived Without Those Sleeping Beauty Floral Wreaths.

Which required far too much bicep flower power.

You Once Decided to Do Pointe Without Padding...

Whatever, my toes lasted through Coppelia's countless chainé turns. They can take it.

...Which You Realized Was a Bad Idea When You Saw What Came After.

No! Keep it away!

SET Was As Much Of a Backstage Tradition As Telling Someone To "Break a Leg."

As was Spit, Solitaire, and — the most difficult game of all — How Do I Get All This Pancake Off My Face?

Your Posture Is Always Complimented in Public.

Hey, something's got to make up for the feet.

You Roll Your Eyes at Julia Stiles Trying to Pass Herself Off As a Ballerina.

Wat is that, Julia?

And Natalie Portman's Upper Body.

Girl definitely deserved that Oscar, but her body double definitely deserved credit too.

And the Fact That Flashdance Claims That You Can Start Over In an Audition... And Still Get In.

Or that one-on-one auditions are a thing. Or that glorified aerobics are a suitable substitute for ballet. Or that you can hire a male body double to break dance for you and no one will notice.

You Kind of Wanted Carrie to End Up With Aleksandr Petrovsky.

It's freakin' Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carrie! The man's a dancer — he's all about feet and, ergo, shoes! C'mon!

You Name Drop Jody Sawyer, Cooper Nielsen, and Eva Rodriguez As If They Were Your BFFs.

They're the best goddamn dancers in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you?

And, Speaking Of, It's YOUR Dream, Mom.

The moment that officially redeemed Maureen for finding that elephant and mouse joke funny.

Also, Cooper's an Amazing Dancer and Choreographer, But As a Boyfriend? He Kinda Sucked.

And, let's face it — as a choreographer, he was kind of ridiculous.

So Did the Boys In Your Class, Who Were Never As Dreamy as Charlie.

And he was straight.

But All the Blisters, Monotony, Smelly Shoes, Turn-Out Troubles, Frustrations, and Expenses Were Worth It For That Wonderful Moment When You Danced, Center Stage, In Front of Hundreds of People Who Loved Ballet As Much As You Do

And, after hours upon hours of rehearsals, you deserve to dance like everybody's watching.

But, Still, Even That Wonderful Moment Ends With This.


Images: Center Stage/Columbia Pictures;; New Skin/; SET/; Save the Last Dance/Paramount Pictures; Black Swan/Fox Searchlight Pictures