By Anna Sadovskaya, Daily Fine Arts Columnist
Published October 29, 2012
When I was little, I wanted nothing more than long, thick locks of hair reaching down to my bellybutton. My mother, the great listener that she is, was very cognisant of my desires. So, I spent the better part of my first 10 years with a bowl cut, which was apparently what every fashion-forward six year old was wearing in France. Luckier still, I was in Russia.
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You can immediately see how boundless my childhood happiness was. Despite the minor setback of having no real hair to braid into knots and twists, I was determined to play my favorite game of ballerina dress-up with a proper ballerina bun.
So began the age of tights. This dark period consisted of me stretching worn ballet tights onto my head, letting the innocent pink legs tangle and twine down my back. Every evening, without fail, I’d come home from school, plop a handful of strawberries in my mouth and begin to choreograph an elaborately clumsy dance, with the foul-smelling footwear binding my bowl cut.
As a type of performance dance, ballet is performed in front of an audience to the accompaniment of music, typically classical. Originating during the Italian Renaissance in the 15h century, it has since become a technically difficult art form, demanding a high level of agility and skill on the part of the dancers.
Once my hair grew out and my obsession with buns faded, I still wore the tights — this time, properly, on my legs. I spent eight years dancing ballet, jazz and tap, trying to pas de chat my way onto the dance scene. The love for dance came from my mother’s incessant theater-going. While in St. Petersburg, my family would spend every Friday night at the Mariinsky Theatre, and I’d sit, enthralled with the lithe ballerinas.
After crossing the ocean and landing in Michigan, dance took a front seat in my life thanks to enrollment in a twice-weekly dance school. I considered myself the Next Big Thing and religiously practiced my arabesques … for a few minutes a day.
Soon, it became evident I was not made to dance on the big stage. Not only was I a head taller than all the girls in my class, I was also impatient and refused to spend more than an hour at the dance school. My instructor, Shari, almost broke her ruler slamming it next to my feet in an attempt to correct my sloppy toe-pointing. Everything was bad.
Ballet, as most people imagine it, is pretty. It’s pretty, light and the dancers all look graceful and effortless. Let me be the first to tell you: blisters. Blisters, muscle spasms and exhaustion are far more realistic.
Dancers begin at an early age, training at prestigious ballet schools such as the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They spend hours stretching and conditioning their bodies to fit into the mold of a ballerina. Grooming a little girl or boy into a world-class dancer is as difficult as coaching the Detroit Pistons to a winning season.
The most prestigious title awarded to a female ballerina is the Prima Ballerina Assoluta, first awarded in 1894 by French ballet master Marius Petipa to Pierina Legnani, an Italian dancer for Imperial Russia. Since Legnani, the title has been bestowed on 10 other ballerinas, the last being Alessandra Ferri of Italy in 1992. Rarely used today, the title is only given to those ballerinas who show an exceptional proficiency in dance.
I will never be a Prima Ballerina Assoluta. I will never even be a Prima Ballerina, the second highest ranking. I will never go on pointe and dance in “The Nutcracker” as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Everything is bad. But, on the other hand: long hair, don’t care.