"Welcome back!!" I cry ecstatically as I see our coach at the gym for the first time in months. Her face lights up and stretches into a huge grin, her eyes dancing with excitement as she replies, "I'm happy to be back." The gym is suddenly filled with a familiar aura -- it's like a second home when our coach is around. And it almost feels like nothing had changed over the past few months.
Well, until I start practicing my fouettés. As I go into preparation, I concentrate on doing them well and push off with as much speed as I can muster. I spot once, twice... but instead of ending in a plié, I feel my body tilt and suddenly I'm turning straight to the ground.
My right leg shoots down before I can fall. I grunt in annoyance as I stumble. That didn't go as planned. OK, I sigh, starting in preparation again, think. I fell left, so lean a little right. I push off the carpet, spinning quickly, but my balance is off and I hop after plié. I grit my teeth, irritation clawing at me but suppressing my agitation to try again. I do fouetté after fouetté, yet to no avail. The rest of the gym fades out of focus until I see nothing but the wall in front of me. I'm in the zone. The wall is my spot, and all I think and feel are my turns. When our coach tells us to practice jumps, I start a little, astonished at the unexpected sound. I blink and glance around as the other girls head to form lines. I trail behind them reluctantly, the sensation of falling off balance still vividly ingrained in memory.
Days pass, and soon a week goes by and nothing has changed. Each time I enter preparation, uncertainty seeps into my mind as it replays my recent failures. My thoughts are scattered, but I take a deep breath and push off. The same thing happens. Ugh! I inwardly groan, why wasn't it working? Had I completely lost my turns? No matter how I try, I always fall or hop out. I grit my teeth. Maybe it's time to get extra help, I admit to myself yet inwardly dreading thought of it. Nevertheless, I reach out to my previous ballet teacher and after Saturday training, I head over to her studio, ready to perfect my fouettés.
After combinations at the bar, we practice fouettés to music. Although we're supposed to plié on the beats, I can't match the rhythm, and soon I feel that same sensation of drifting and losing my balance. I try again, but with no success. My ballet teacher observes me and instructs me to slow down and go with the music.
"But it's too slow," I complain. I need to do fast fouettés in my routines anyway, so what's the point of trying to do them sluggishly?
But she looks at me knowingly. "Once you can do them slowly, you can also do them faster," she says.
Pfft, but I just need to know how to do them quickly, I think. I half-heartedly try to do them slower, my legs painfully trudging from passé to plié, and fall out. My teacher shows no signs of relenting, so I continue practicing reducing my speed, doing slow pliés at the bar and repeating basic exercises.
This will help, I insist, trying to extend my patience. But as I do each exercise, annoyance seethes inside me, and by the end of class, I feel like I just wasted one hour and a half.
For two weeks, I pushed myself to go to ballet and improve my fouettés, but by the end my patience had worn out. I practiced slow pliés at home with no evident progress. But what else could I do? I couldn't accept the idea that I'd lost my fouettés, and I couldn't seem to get them back on my own; this was the only way. So I counted, 1,2,3... up to 30, each day while doing the slow plié exercise, correcting my posture and doing anything to occupy my attention.
And then one day, it happened. As I stepped into preparation at training, I recalled my ballet teacher's advice to pull upwards, to open my chest, and most importantly, to slow down. I spun a double into a clean plié and pulled up for the next turn. I continued chanting these three things in my head for each turn, and before I knew it happened, I executed one clean, crisp fouetté for the first time in weeks. My body felt completely in balance, my hips and shoulders aligned on relevé and my pliés smooth. Excitement jittered through my body and I almost leapt in joy. My old fouettés were back.
At my next ballet class I told my teacher about the progress, delight whirling through me. She looked at me, unsurprised, and nodded.
"Once you master the basics, you can master the difficulties," she said. "But without the basics, you won't have a foundation to work on." I remember blinking at her words, slowly processing what she said. Foundation, huh? She caught my doubtful look and read my thoughts.
"It's like you build a house," she explained, "You need the base first. Then you can add more floors, windows and details. But without the base, the house can't stand."
I paused. So I'd been building a base; repeating those tedious exercises, one by one, was strengthening the foundation of my turns. And now I knew how to keep my base robust: practicing the basics.
I smile. After relentlessly practicing complicated skills, I'd lost sight of all of the surrounding components that supported them. But the more difficult the task, the more essential the basics are. And the basics require patience and the ability to zoom out and focus on the root cause of the problem, then working to build a foundation that can support anything.