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3:33 Sports Short #47 // Sport? Living Sacrifice... by D. Thomas

Today's pair of Sports Shorts center on one of the most physically demanding endeavors of all: ballet. D. Thomas's piece below focuses on the physical and mental perfection that ballet demands of its practitioners, while Zoë McLaughlin's "After Ballet" contemplates what happens when you leave dancing behind.


Consider the power of the foot: pushing against the ground, elevating the heel, fourteen phlanges pressing up to pointes or propelling one hundred, two hundred pounds of flesh into flight—two feet, three feet; high jumpers might fly seven or eight feet up—. And landing: sink into the metatarsals, absorb the impact through the twenty-six foot bones, and plié when you land.

There are professionals my age still dancing: principals with established careers, soloists with companies that provide massages, ice baths, physical therapies, and surgeries; any man still lifting women and landing jumps, any woman still hopping and turning en pointe after forty is in pain (feet making initial contact with the floor in the morning cry out, “Crippled, crippled.”).  Those who don’t have funds for daily PT or surgical repairs hobble off the scene to teach in slippers or jazz shoes, or do something else.

I became an exercise instructor/trainer. My main “ego” moments now that I’ve gained a thousand pounds are on leg days. Ballet—pliés, leaps, and trying to hold all your weight off  your pointes when you know your toenails have been driven into your kneecaps—  makes your legs very strong. When one of the big guys is doing the incline press, I tell him to leave the plates on, I’ll use it. “How much should I take off?” he’ll ask, and I’ll say, “Oh, take off a quarter. I’ll warm up.”

Bob, my fellow trainer, has to assuage them, explaining, “She’s not normal.”

He’s a natural bodybuilder, with the most graceful definition I’ve seen. He’s big, but not freaky like the steroid-pumped guys who can fit another whole body into their own. He mostly uses dumbbells, knocking out twelve super- and tri-sets of  as much weight as he can lift for as many reps as he can do. He has precise cuts, gorgeous tie-ins, a lovely symmetry.

If ballet is a religion demanding a lifetime  of discipleship, submission, and obedience, bodybuilding and its divisions are sects of another cult which requires one’s body as a living sacrifice to the false god; its devotees undergo periods of severe mortification of the flesh: hard regimens of weight-lifting and cardio; six to eight weeks out, the ever more precisely  measured and restricted diet  is Law if the body is to peak on show day, pared to pure muscle, holding no fat, no water, yet not flat. One wrong meal that last week, or too much liquid, and cuts might blur, abs might come out soft. Tans and oils can only hide so much; you and the gods and judges know if you sinned.

The hard thing is to turn away from the mirror: mirrors lie. Physical imperfections can gnaw at the psyche like temptation. Fasting and prayer might be useful for driving out demons, but fasting and obsessing invites them…


D. Thomas has been a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer in Williamsport, Pa. for over a decade, and in addition to drawing, painting, and writing, she happily performs liturgical dance, without toe shoes.

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