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  • Ballet and Body Dysmorphia

    Edinburgh Website
    Posted: February 08, 2019 Posted: February 08, 2019
    Ballet and Body Dysmorphia

    | A real-life, relatable poem about the effect a ballet dancing teacher has on her students. The good, the bad and the sad.

    'Polos' is a poem written and performed by Edinburgh based, US-raised storyteller and dancer Katie Ailes, all about a ballet teacher called Emma and her profound impact on her students' lives, both positive and negative.

    Read the poem below and watch the video of Katie's choreography to the meaningful and moving piece.

    My favorite dance teacher, Emma, is the most beautiful woman in the world.
    She has this hair, you see, that curls and curls
    back down her back
    down her straight dancer spine for days:
    gorgeous auburn,

    She never wears makeup,
    only laugh lines
    and bagged-eyes
    and lips that care more for smiling than for lipstick, but

    Emma wears polos.
    Big baggy polo shirts that stretch from
    her neck to her legginged thighs,
    covering everything in between.

    Her favorite one is green,
    makes her back look like a forest on fire.

    Inspiring us without knowing it,
    she danced a legend through our dreams
    Didja know, Emma used to be famous,
    used to dance on the New York stage,
    hold halls in thrall,
    whole crowds in awe
    as she boureed,
    tombeed into perfect piques
    the clichés of ballet
    replayed and replayed,
    so clean
    on her form,
    her tutu cinched waist,
    her skeletal frame
    claiming the ideal lines.

    It’s all about the lines.

    We knew Emma used to be taught by her mother,
    a ballet mistress in her eighties now,
    all metal knees, hips, shoulders now,
    all hopes for her down to us now,

    the same woman who used to keep a set of scales in the studio,
    who taught us to
    pull up,
    pull up,
    pull up,
    this is too soft,
    this is soft,
    you, you, you are soft.

    Emma wears polos,
    big baggy polos,
    and we don’t see her cinched waist anymore.

    She’s had two kids,
    and the only dancing she does now is to gently caress the floor
    with her toes,
    show the young, flat-chested girls how to tendu,
    fondue, ronde-jambe,
    her knees perfectly turned out,
    toes pointed because they’ve forgotten how to just lie there,
    how to be anything but pointed.

    Emma wears polos,
    and one day in class she almost let slip that
    Sex is the best way to learn turn-out!
    But then she caught herself and said no,
    It’s having babies that teaches you, babies…

    I didn’t know sex then,
    I’d never felt a boy on my lips,
    let alone my hips,
    and so I didn’t catch why her cheeks flushed red
    and her fingers awkwardly fumbled for the hem of her shirt,
    grasping for some social grace

    She taught us to stand on our toes,
    to hold the whole weight of us
    on the smallest surface,
    like a wedding cake topper,
    or a camel balancing on the eye of the needle,
    to do the impossible with grace:

    but to face a mirror was more difficult,

    reflecting back to her
    something bigger than herself
    something holding all her fears,
    something holding the past forty years
    of feeling too large,
    and now this, this, this
    feels too large.

    So now—
    Now she teaches us how to
    hold ourselves up
    how to
    walk the world straight
    how to
    walk the world slim,
    thin, how to
    fit into the cracks
    to fit other dancers into tutus
    while we wear polos,

    us wide-eyed, small-hipped,
    eagerly lapping up the lessons
    she did not mean to teach us:

    That dancing means minimising
    That this [stomach] is not beautiful
    That these [breasts] are shame,
    That growing into a woman is a step in the wrong direction.

    My favorite dance teacher, Emma, is the most beautiful woman in the world.
    I ran into her once in the Powerbar section of Costcos
    and we had the most awkward conversation in the world
    because she’s shy
    and she hides
    behind those subtle smiles
    and that curly hair
    and she wears polos…

    Two babies came from those hips,
    and now no one knows the shape of her stomach,
    the belly I imagine as holding worlds,
    the power of creation,
    the deification of motherhood—

    But it’s not

    Emma wears polos,
    and all I want to tell her is:
    Take them off.
    You are beautiful.

    Video by Perry Jonsson and Katie Ailes, c/o Loud Poets