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A Pas de Deux with Terpsichore: Seeing our Relationship with Nature through Ballet

I have heard two common responses to the Coronavirus lockdown. First, people are frightened and frustrated. Understandably, many are scared because their livelihoods have been put on hold; money is scarce; and some are enduring terrifying domestic situations where being at home might be more dangerous than exposure to the virus. Frustration, too, is rising because of boredom and a desire to work and to see friends and family. On the other hand, some are finding meaning in their isolation. Their lives have slowed down, they have spent more time with their immediate families, the world is quieter, and the air is cleaner. This slow pace has become an unexpected gift to the situation.

Prior to this pandemic, many of us had busy daily routines. These prevented us from having well-rounded lives that allowed time to devote to hobbies, sports, and exercise, or to have meaningful relationships with those we love. Even if many of us attempted to incorporate these into our schedules, I am certain that on a number of occasions a majority of us put them aside for work.

I have spoken with some friends about our experiences over the past six weeks of lockdown in the UK. Although there are undeniably difficult aspects to it, we have also come to appreciate this time. In the quiet space, we are feeling inspired to try new hobbies, read new books, or try new exercise and meditation routines, even when we are working from home. Interestingly, we also find ourselves returning to things we loved to do before adulthood. Some have picked up their musical instruments, others their paints, baking implements, or sewing and knitting. For me, I grabbed my ballet shoes.

I realised that over the years, work has taken me away from activities that were fundamental parts of who I truly am. In fact, reconnecting with dancing has helped me find —call it what you will— my vocation, a bond with the universe, divine intervention, or a deeper connection with myself. If I lived in ancient Greece or Rome, the muse of dance, Terpsichore, would be my inspiration. In fact, her name translates to delight in dance, which represents the joy I feel when I move to music.

The ancient Greeks and Romans regularly called upon the muses to inspire them to allow their creativity to flow. The nine muses were the daughters of Zeus, King of the Olympian deities, and Mnemosyne, a Titan goddess who personified memory. The muses inspired poets and dramatists to write, scholars to study history and astronomy, musicians to create music, and dancers to dance. Greek poems often began with the author seeking or thanking a muse for inspiration. Their relationship with the divine was their way of explaining their calling to leave something beautiful in the world. I believe we all have vocations, and that there are multiple facets in our lives that contribute to them and how we build on them.

For me, ballet is a component that helped me both to see and be part of the natural world in a distinct and beautiful way. I took my first ballet lessons at age seven and loved them because everything was pretty: the dance movements, the music, and, of course at that age, the pink slippers and tutus. At the end of every lesson, my instructor would have us do “interpretative” dancing. She asked us to pretend to be flowers growing from a seed to full bloom, trees blowing in the wind, waves crashing in the ocean, birds flying, and swans gliding on the water. The lessons were intended to teach us to move slowly and gracefully just like the natural elements we were imitating. Aside from pretending to be a bee buzzing around a flower, I also learnt to observe the gracefulness, beauty, strength (ballet dancers are incredibly strong), and resilience of nature.

As I grew older and progressed with dancing, I began to see a connection between my mind and body, as well as how my body interacted with surrounding spaces. A harmonious balance between these can be likened to a pas de deux in ballet. This is a duet, and the French term means a step of two. When this is done well, the dancers move seamlessly together, almost as if they were one.

This balance can be seen in any aspect of life where we find a connection between our mind, body, and in some cases the world around us. A different example of this I can give, but I challenge you to find your own, is dinghy sailing.

Another part of me is that I am a keen dinghy sailor, and I frequently compare the sport to a ballet on water because the boats and the sailors are graceful and it is utterly beautiful to watch and to do. Again, a pas de deux takes place between the sailor and their boat, the sail with the wind, the hull with the water, and the helm with the crew. Like dancing, sailing takes bravery, intelligence, strength, and an acute sense and respect for the surrounding environment to stay upright and remain balanced.

By reconnecting with ballet, I was able to discover why I have a vocation to help create a world that is environmentally sound and sustainable. Through my knowledge of the ancient world and love for teaching, I want to enable people to see the world as a beautiful and healthy space for everyone and each thing that inhabits it. I want to show that acting in harmony with nature, as well as with others, means that we can treat all life as an elegant dance together; and we do not want our partner to stumble because we fall with them.

So, although I know we are all facing some challenging times, I hope that during these lockdowns, you can find time to connect or reconnect with a passion that relates to your true self. In essence, what are your muses asking you to do and can you use this time to heed their call? Once you find their inspiration, how will you maintain it to have a better life in a post-pandemic world?

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