This quote has been accredited to more than Paderewski, as I am sure anyone who practices can relate. When I heard it first, “the critics” was replaced by “the teacher”, and I can definitely attest, from perspective of student and teacher, that teachers can tell when there has been a lapse in practice.
Coming back to ballet after a break is always a new experience. It is a mixture of feelings, in your body and in your spirit. I remember when I was in the thick of it, a break of more than a day or two was of definite notice. I don’t think I could even go a day without some sort of physical conditioning, and the feeling of 24 hours without a ballet class was like a different life.
A week away felt like walking around without a limb, that everyone could surely look at you, and tell you had not been where you were supposed to be. More than a week felt as if lifetimes had been lived while you were away, and you couldn’t be sure if your body would disown you completely.
I live an entirely different life now, one where ballet class is the exception and not the rule. I never would’ve thought that I would have so many reintroductions to dance, that I would be able to have one foot securely in normal life, in motherhood, and still skim the surface of ballet. Since venturing out of the pursuit of dance as a profession, I have been able to come back to the studio as a teacher and as a choreographer, but my favorite is always as a student. I am and will always be a student at heart. In ballet, as in life, there is always something to learn, something new to discover, ways to improve, and new perspectives to take hold of.
Right now, the days of weeklong breaks are a distant memory, as I come back to the studio after my second child. With my first baby I took regular class up till her due date, but with my most recent pregnancy, I suffered from symphysis pubis dysfunction, which significantly limited my daily activities, and ruled dancing out completely. It has been such an interesting experience returning to the barre after my longest break yet. I’ve never felt quite as weak as I have felt now since my very first classes when I started ballet. Of course, it is not the same as the beginning, the head knowledge is there, and the muscle memory. This muscle memory doesn’t feel strong though, not like a tangible dream, one that you can almost remember experiencing, the senses still strong, substantial enough to strike a balance on. This is like a fainting vision, one that blurs, and you can’t quite remember the beginning or the end, and the middle comes in and out, just as you are grasping its edges.
All that to say, I am always grateful to have another chance to stand at the barre, to hear the music, and to let my body trace the familiar patterns. There is something so comforting about plies, it is so familiar. Even while you battle the frustrations of your body’s own limitations, you can rejoice in your place there at the barre, your other thoughts fading to the back and your mind falling into the well-worn groove.