Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding Center


To the new ballet student, "center" is a mysterious promised land. "Girls, find your center," goes the refrain; she is assuredly unclear about its meaning. Her ballet classes are a journey through a desert of asymmetrical anatomy and habitual posture with occasional glimpses into the luscious green valley that is center. To a new dancer it feels like a mirage. Center means the point of perfect balance, a different science in each unique body. It isn't found in one try, ever. The dancer has to try and fail repeatedly, hoping one day hit the center of the dartboard without even having seen it.

Once a dancer finds center in her own body, a world of complex movement opens to her. Pirouettes multiply, her body is able to sustain weightlessness for moments at a time. It is zen, like the calm of a mind in prayer or the roar of a river. It is the perfect moment of joy before the Christmas presents open, the sweet spot on the baseball bat.

Muscle memory is powerful. As I lay in bed typing, my brain is sending messages about center to my core like an operator sending telegraphs out into a world that's moved on. I haven't been to a dance class in years. Ballet? Fughedaboutit. Though these signals are echoes, anachronisms, my muscles twinge at their memory, awakened by this habitual code.

In ballet, all things derive from center. It isn't a hippy-dippy mystical magical place. Center is very real. It's the point at which one's upper and lower-body strength align, the convergence of movement between left and right sides. Understanding center is understanding one's power to jump, ability to spin, and stability in small footwork. Ballet arms grow out from the center of the body rather than dangling from the shoulder joint. Legs come from the bellybutton, rather than pushing up from the foot. Truly technical dancing is anchored in a strong center that blooms outward, gentle foliage supported by strong root.

I lost my center this week. Life got all wonky and crumbled. (My ballet center, I abandoned years ago.) I suppose it's inevitable, especially when I move out of my comfort zone like that new dancer. I know I'm capable of regaining balance, but I feel as though I attempted a triple pirouette and landed three feet stage right.

By today, everything I tried felt wrong because it wasn't anchored in anything sturdy. This week was the equivalent of the class where I tried and tried to repeat a movement only to feel myself grasping for a center that was untenable. As in ballet rehearsals, this week's repeated exercises in futility and fatigue meant I couldn't find it. There came a point where my every action was out of frenzy, frustration, fatigue, and a near-crazy obsession with getting back to normal. There's no way I'm going to find center like that; I have a better shot at blowing something entirely. Whammo, that's (predictably) what happened.

But my life can't be about blaming myself anymore for losing balance. I'm trying hard to make it about learning from mistakes and missteps.

What I need is to step away, rest, regain strength, and try again.

What my brain needs is a good run.

What my marriage needs is a little time.

What my immune system needs is about two days of sleep.

What my house needs is a good scrubbing.

What my emotions need is a quick inventory.

I can't run for one more week. (Sads.) But for the last two days I've made efforts at just being outside. It's a step in the right direction, or a check box, checked, on my "fix things good so I ain't got the Crazies no more" list.

I feel the call to pause, again. Amazing how that message has been repeated to me this week. Pause. Listen. Let go (and let God). Only then can I move outward from strength again, centered.


  1. This post was perfect for me today. I have to thank you for your openness and honesty. I hope you realize that I am at least one person that you have reached and met right where I am. You encourage me and I feel ya, cyber friend. My latest mantra has been "God, I give it to you" over and over. I'll be praying for you to get all the things that you need.

  2. Beautifully written! I think everyone can relate to being off center. This was a great post for me to read on a day when I have an entire house to clean/unpack and can't stop vomiting (pregnancy) for the life of me.