What bothers me is that I cannot see myself. Not in the way I see others. I cannot, to paraphrase Atticus Finch, walk in another man’s shoes, see the world how he sees it, feel the wind falling on his face, the sun shine on his arms, experience his joy and excitement. As a child, I used to look into people’s eyes. The polite thing to do, my mother said. I used to gaze into my mother’s hazel ones (so different from my washed out blue), but all I saw was my own face reflected in the retina. When I first heard the age-old adage, the eyes are the mirror of the soul, I always thought it meant that the eyes are the mirrors of the soul of the person we are looking at. Growing up I understood that the eyes of the other person are the mirror to our own soul.
So I stopped looking into eyes of others. Because in them, yet another mirror.
College was a kaleidoscope of human mirrors: professors, fellow students, boyfriends. Too many ways to see oneself, and one night, overwhelmed, alone and homesick, I, clutching a pair of worn out ballet slippers, went into the ballet studio. The lights had been dimmed. I lay on the cold Marley floor and mentally traced the patterns on the ceiling. In the mirror, I could find myself. I stood up and put on my slippers. Looking was easier than I thought. In the mirror, I saw myself or perhaps a version of myself, someone who could only exist in this space and in this moment. I prepared in fourth, good, old-school Vaganova fourth, and turned my half-formed pirouettes, until I was only a blur on the silver surface.
Dancing is a way of being blindfolded. Because when moving, when dancing, when pirouetting, looking at oneself from any angle is impossible. Perhaps that is what bothers me about dancing, and about ballet. The external mirrors that become the ultimate judge and executor, dealing sentences in harsh silvery light.
Some cultures believe that a mirror captures the soul. The eye of the little god, wrote Sylvia Plath. Once again the eye and the mirror are synchronized. Eyes are like mirrors. My mother’s eyes and my own acne-marked teenaged face rising from the black liquid iris. I have surely looked into the eye of this god for countless hours in the confined space that is the ballet studio. I have seen the reflection of other women and men, dancers whom I thought were superior to me. I wondered if what I saw in their reflection was what they saw of themselves. We were looking at the same image but from different worlds. “We see things not as they are, but as we are,” wrote Anais Nin, those tired heavy words tumbling into the world through her journals.
My mind and body have shared an uneasy space for many years. For those I refused to look into the mirror, for fear of finally knowing that this is how I am going to appear for the rest of my life. This is my body, the shape that I will live in. The only shape that I will live in. Ballet forced the confrontation of the two antagonists. The body that bluntly refuses the societal standards. The mind that aspires to conform to them. Even my numerous attempts to reduce the body to a starving saint of fashion have done little to melt away the mutinous mountains of fat. I feel their burning weight in the mirror of the ballet studio. It all comes down to looking and seeing.
But dancing, in its purest, truest, brightest form (whatever that may be) is being blindfolded, oblivious to the shape, and open to the flow, for lack of a better word. I hold onto those moments like a child trying to hold a fistful of sand. I go back and back, back to the studio, back to the pain, and sweat and blood and tears, like a moth burning in the lamp on a warm summer night. Every step, every turn, a reclaiming of space. Am I body or a mind? Does it matter?