A Girl Not on Fire

I fell in love with the concept of a girl on fire from The Hunger Games and the Alicia Keys song, especially sung by Naya Rivera in an episode from Glee. I’m not sure why this idea is so compelling, but it evokes the image of a strong, commanding, and alluring woman.

I am not a girl on fire. Not even close. In fact, I’m probably too old to be considered a girl, though I suppose that is somewhat at my discretion and others have recently called me a girl. At Wellesley we were inculcated that we were not girls at a school without men, but women at a college without boys. Regardless, I realized in the last few days I don’t even want to be a girl on fire after inhaling the air suffused with smoke. To be honest, in the three to four hours I spent outside in the smoky artifacts of fire one day this week, I felt vaguely ill.

In a lot of ways, I am often in denial of who I am, so apt am I to chase after images and ideals. As a child I was obsessed with ballet. When I couldn’t take lessons, I practiced for years by myself and even choreographed and timed a full two hour length ballet one forgotten summer in elementary school, devising my own notation to record the steps. Ballet is a discipline that prompts its disciples to aim for an ideal perfection. At some point, my mother offered to send me to a ballet school that would prepare me for a career as a dancer. The ballet school accepted me and thought this would be a viable future, but my mother informed me if I made this choice I would be forced to sacrifice my commitment to academics and any hope of a possible career in science. I chose science and relinquished my ballet classes within a few months out of frustration with the less intensive option for a ballet school. I later realized studying ballet intensively and being committed to academics are not mutually exclusive, and perhaps the discipline from the ballet would have been helpful in addition to providing balance and joy. It certainly would have helped me with my college applications, since my academics were unmarred but my extra-curriculars were lacking.

Decisions are tricky. How do you make decisions? Do you even realize how many choices you encounter every day? More than the number of monsters you encounter in a role playing game and perhaps just as threatening. I would probably do better making decisions by rolling a twenty sided die than by my current method which includes a batter of polling my friends, pros and cons lists (or if you want to be fancy, Benthamian Utilitarian charts; I chose Wellesley this way over an Ivy League alternative for college), and intuition.

Let’s consider some choices that face you every day. Should you go out or stay in? Think The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” If you go out, will you order coffee or tea? If you order coffee, espresso or a cappuccino? When my aunt asked me at age 12 or so if I am indecisive, my response was, “I don’t know.” When Andrew picks options of birthday gifts from which I should choose some subset, I can’t decide and buy all of them for him. That stopped being a surprise a long time ago. Anyone who knows me knows I spend months trying to make up my mind only to change it hundreds of times before settling down, like a harmonic oscillator or a scalar field oscillating around in a potential well.

On Tuesday Andrew and I were on one of our jogs and midway through I decided to drop in on a Winnipeg ballet class a few hours later. In that first ballet class I’ve had in English for the last eleven years, I was among other twenty-something to forty-something year old adult women who were a bit panicked. The teacher reminded us this wasn’t brain surgery. I knew the steps and how to execute them but couldn’t retain the combinations in my mind. Even when I did, there was a disconnect between my brain and my legs, which were obviously confused. I can vary an action to obtain the equations of motion that express all the physics of a system but tell my legs to glissade, changement, glissade, changement, assemblé, assemblé, assemblé, and befuddlement befalls. I was more successful when I looked at my feet, but that wasn’t encouraged either. It was confusing to look up because so many of us were making up our own combination.

I attended the class on Thursday as well. During a grande plié my body obeyed, my arms were graceful, and I felt in tune with the music. I felt like I was doing something right and saw the instructor watching me. I finally felt good.

Until afterwards the instructor made the correction that some of our arms were like those of a diva. I knew I was guilty of this. Later she asked us if any of us knew what tendu meant. Always the eager student, I responded quickly “to stretch.”

There is a dress code at the school: black leotard, pink tights, and optionally a skirt. Our teacher said we were allowed to wear black tights. I showed up in a black leotard, black tights, and my black boy shorts to my second class.

The ones with The American Ballet Theatre logo.

Okay, so maybe I am not a girl on fire. I am not a ballerina nor did I even develop the ideal ballet body type, much to my chagrin. I can accept that now and embrace my path and maybe even a little of who I am. I can still enjoy taking ballet classes at a world class school, as some of the schools in Winnipeg are, making yet another dream come true. I might not be a girl on fire, but there is still a little spirit in me that no one can subdue. And a little diva. And a little Hermione. And maybe a little fire.

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