This is me, age 6, 1985, performing in the Nutcracker Ballet for the first time. My parents and brothers also had roles in the production so the many hours of rehearsals were a family affair. I remember the thrill of hiding under that gigantic hoop skirt, watching the stilts carefully so I didn’t get stepped on. I remember the hours of rehearsals learning the simple and fun dance. As I was one of the last to leave Mother’s wide skirt for my dance, I remember the flash of the lights and audience as she would raise her skirt, in time with the music, and two other clowns, just like me, would run out to begin dancing on the stage.
The nights of performance were so full of anticipation and excitement! The thick smell of stage makeup and rows of lights surrounding the dressing room mirrors; the racks of intricate costumes and stiff ballerina skirts; the beautiful ballerinas stretching and laughing together…it was all a sight to behold for my wide, young eyes! Especially seeing my mom and dad all dressed up as party goers, and my brothers dressed as rats and the Nutcracker himself. I loved it! I loved the story and the music and the thrill of it all.
And now, as an adult, I am aware of some of the memories of that experience in a different way. I remember feeling disappointed that I got the orange costume, rather than the blue, or pink or purple one. I remember not being included in the friendship and fun with the other girls I shared a part with. They all attended the same school and I was an outsider, in a way, even at that young age. They would sit together, run the halls together, and laugh together all while I was apart and sat alone. I made my own fun exploring the dark stage recesses and dressing rooms, but remember the sting of being left out and ignored.
In the years that followed, I would audition for the role of Party Girl three times, each time not making the cut. Even then, I perceived that I didn’t have the long hair that stayed in ringlets, the slender figure, and probably not the grace they were looking for. My strong body also did not fit the tiny dress costumes, something that even at ages seven, eight, and nine I knew and was aware of. My thighs were well acquainted and my belly more round that the other girls.
These memory impressions are fascinating to me now. I often wonder, how did this affect me growing up? How did these interactions and experiences help to shape the person I am now? Rejection, disappointment and failure perhaps shape us more than acceptance and achievement because of the extra thought and decisions that follow. Those years I did not get the part of Party Girl, my family still continued to be heavily involved in the Nutcracker productions, so I was still there, just as an observer, watching the party girls dance, the younger clowns play, and the beautiful ballerinas perform so elegantly. These times I did not get the parts affected me as I became more shy and less willing to go for things and prepare for auditions. I stopped singing on stage around that time as well, which had been something I did regularly and loved. I wrapped my little heart in gauze and protected myself from feeling embarrassed or out-of-place. It really did affect me. It would have been too easy to get every part and win every heart.
But I still did okay. I was ok. I found my stride and talents in other areas. I quit ballet right at the time I would have advanced to point. I excelled in violin and piano, and loved my friends.
This photo is a trip down memory lane. That little girl who had the world before her, who was loved no matter what color her costume was, no matter what other girls thought of her, no matter what part she had–
That little girl grew up into a woman who is loved despite daily failings and inadequacies. She became a wife, mother, violinist, teacher, writer, business owner who loves deeply, knows rejection and heartache, and also great joy and love. Many times, therapists will go back to childhood memories to identify triggers and sources of habits and patterns. As I delve into this Nutcracker period of my life, there are things that shaped me, but I only see the good. I see human experience and connection. I see natural experiences where God was nudging me towards where I needed to be the very most, to become what He knows I can become–the very best version of myself, unique to me.
Look at those shining eyes and grin! She was magnificent then and didn’t even know it!