Last weekend we went to Sofia for some meetings and to get some culture, and I asked Mark if he would come to the ballet with me. Yes, the ballet. I proposed a good old-fashioned performance of Giselle by the best ballet dancers in Bulgaria. Even though Cirque de Soleil was in Sofia and it seemed like everyone we knew was going to that performance, he agreed. We could see Cirque any time back in the U.S. (and have seen it several times before), but the National Ballet of Bulgaria would be a rare and special opportunity for us.
From the second we walked in the door of the National Opera and Ballet, I was smitten. Like many little girls, I had dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. I got as far as toe shoes (ah, the joy!) until one day my Russian ballet teacher, who walked around the room with some kind of stick, smacked the barre next to my hand and shouted “you too fat” and that was the end of my dream. I was 12. My mother picked me up from practice that day and I told her I wanted to quit ballet. I never told her why. That night, I wrapped the pink satin ribbons around the toe shoes one last time and put them in a box and said goodbye to the shoes that made me think I was beautiful and that I could do anything. I had not been to a ballet performance since my dream had been crushed.
That night in Sofia brought me back. I loved the costumes (I still remember my first poofy pink “tutu”) and the sound of the toe shoes hitting the floor in between outrageous leaps and spins. What kind of human beings can do all of that and keep a smile on their face and not look like they were breathing hard?
Our daughter Jenna was a competitive gymnast and routinely performed amazing feats of her own, such as back flips on a 4-inch-wide balance beam and other ridiculously scary skills on the floor, vault and uneven bars. Her grandparents, who attended the meets religiously, would often hold their breath while waiting for a safe landing. I loved watching our little graceful girl fly through the air in her team leotard. She was strong and powerful and proud, especially after receiving many first-place medals for her incredible athletic accomplishments.
But ballet is different. It’s more, oh, I suppose I could say it’s more cultured. There are costumes and stories and scenery and women and men dancing together and it’s simply lovely. I had always secretly had a crush on the strong and graceful Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, (especially once he started appearing in the TV show “Sex and the City”) and that night in Sofia the lead male dancer in purple tights and a gold-encrusted vest reminded me of him, at least from our seats in the 15th row. I was in heaven.
During the intermission, we went into the beautiful lobby with marble columns where little girls were leaping and spinning and pretending to be ballerinas. I asked Mark what he thought and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s okay.” I couldn’t believe it. How could this just be “okay?” I got angry with him. Couldn’t he appreciate what we were seeing? We are in BULGARIA at the National Ballet! I went with him to see his beloved Green Bay Packers, couldn’t he just enjoy the ballet for one night?
But then I realized this was my dream, not his. Sometimes spouses do things for each other even when they don’t really want to. That’s just what we do. We went back inside for the second act, which Mark enjoyed more than the first act (or so he said). Even if he didn’t really enjoy it more, I appreciated the effort he made to make me think he did.
As we were leaving, I looked at Mark and thanked him. I realized then that even though I had put those shoes away in a box a long time ago, I had become beautiful and I could do anything, especially with my husband right by my side.