Philosophy of the Dance
by Brooke Middlebrook
I ask The Ballerinas to watch my form. Am I doing it?
The Ballerinas scintillate. Not really, they reply, one must use reason to become an exemplar of measured forces, symmetries, order and studied illusions. One must live, completely at ease, in an element comparable to fire. We excel in immanence.
My toes refuse to fully uncurl after class, blistered and cashew-like. I ask The Ballerinas if I’ll ever be able to wear sandals in summer.
They flick the ash from their cigarettes. We confess that while we once concerned ourselves with such tedium, we find being a closed circle of resonance that creates its own space-time is a fair trade.
This time I try to impress The Ballerinas by walking en pointe in my pink Pavlovas. Despite feeling that all of my stretched ligaments will snap and unravel, they do not arc enough above the shoe’s throat to carve out balance. Different shoes would help, I think. All the best girls in class wear Contemporas, slippers the color of apricots that ripple them across the floor. I ask The Ballerinas if I should switch.
The Ballerinas open and shut swiftly. In this dream of vigilance and tension we know only of tearing oneself from one’s proper shape. They are parabolae; they are a diminished seventh resolving to a perfect fifth. And anyway we’ve enclosed ourselves in a singular species of time of our own engendering, consisting entirely of immediate ener-
Not listening, I’ve sat on the floor again. The clump of lambswool in my toe box has become uncomfortable and needs rearranging. Each toe wears a little square of moleskin to lessen the blisters; I spend a good amount of time in the dressing room before class carefully cutting each piece, not thinking of the imminent shearing of tarsal against metatarsal, and leaving behind piles of white paper backings. I want to ask The Ballerinas if they recognize this is pretense.
The Ballerinas bourrée irritably. This One wishes to play at being All. They are the roundness of water rushing from a brass faucet into cupped hands.
I press my foot into the floor. I explain to The Ballerinas that I’m continually vandalized by a surfeit of sensation, impressions and memories that have collected and grown and pushed, insinuated themselves with no other place to go, that hauling around this brocade of meat is not enough to refine all of it into the seamlessness of metaphor.
The body, where is it to put itself?
Text for The Ballerinas is taken from “Philosophy of the Dance,” Paul Valéry, Salmagundi, Spring-Summer 1976, No. 33/34, pp. 65-75; and “Dance and the Soul,” Paul Valéry, from Dialogues, translated by William McCausland Stewart, 1956, Bollingen Series XLV-4, Pantheon Books, pp. 27-62.
Brooke Middlebrook currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, but grew up in the hills of western Massachusetts. Recent work appears in X-R-A-Y, Tiny Molecules, and Unbroken. She can be found at bmiddleb.com.