She meant her words to be kind. As I stood there at age eleven in my baggy leotard in the empty dance studio, her words seem to reverberate off every mirrored wall."You have a great heart and a deep soul, my Bess," she said in her thick German accent. "But, a dancer you are not."
It was true that it took me longer to get the steps down than the other girls. "I need to practice harder?" My eyes searched her lovely, wrinkled face, trying to discern her words.
Miss Gray sat down gracefully on the piano bench and took my hands in hers, they were soft and covered with age spots. "Your mind understands the music, but your body does not follow."
I looked down at the worn wooden floor, the tears stinging my eyes as I finally understood what she was saying. All the practice in the world would not make me a better dancer. A world renowned ballerina had just told me so.
I walked home from the Fine Arts Center that day a changed child. It was not that I had great aspirations to dance--at the time I thought I wanted to be a lawyer someday. Yet, I had never had a door so firmly closed in my face or a mirror held up to starkly show my true abilities before.
That event skewed how I perceived myself for a long time. I was told that I wasn't good at ballet, but I'm afraid what I heard was that I wasn't good. My already fragile self esteem (whose isn't in sixth grade?) took a blow that day.
The years between the dejected ballerina and the woman I have become were ones spent searching for the strong, confident woman I wanted to be. I looked for her through an endless supply of beauty products from the grocery store or expensive department store cosmetic counters. I looked for glimmers of her in childhood pictures and stories of my younger antics.
My teenage years were difficult ones, though I would not contribute that solely to Miss Gray’s honesty. What she said was true and the blow she struck was made upon an ego already in jeopardy. It was perhaps a defining moment, but just one of many moments in a time full of a dizzying array of emotions.
My early twenties weren’t much better. I think I did a better job of seeming confident. The low self-esteem hovered just below the shiny veneer. I wore the mask of a flirtatious drinker, hiding my doubts in cute outfits. There were glimpses from time to time of the smart, considerate, caring person I hoped to be. But it’s funny how those lousy feelings eat away at all that is true and good in a person.
I never imagined that my first real look at the confident woman-in-waiting would be on the running trail. I started tentatively with mostly a need to dispel my nervous energy. I avoided the popular running trails, choosing instead the rag-tag streets around my apartment. Back then I was working full-time and putting myself through college. I lived in Austin, Tx, a veritable running mecca, and I thought everyone running around the crowded trails of Town Lake was training for a marathon. Then one day I just did it. I headed for one of the scenic trails and before I knew it I had covered four miles. My lungs wanted to explode and my legs were shaking, but I felt great. Better than great. Better than drunk.
It wasn’t about the distance; it was more the extraordinary thing that happened to me while I ran: I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Each step took me further from the self doubt, each run made me stronger. One day I just ran into her, the confident woman who was fast on her feet, dancing in her running shoes.