When I was six years old, my mom signed me up for a ballet class. I don’t think it was my first foray into ballet. I think another girl I knew had joined so I decided I wanted to go too. I remember being filled with trepidation and excitement. I had donned my pink leotard and placed each bobby pin just so. I was a very meticulous child. I learned to dress myself before I could walk and I French braided my own hair in primary school. I think I learned things quickly so I felt like I could control them; as long as I knew the rules, life was safe and predictable. Or so I thought. The first day of dance class brought with it one of life’s hard lessons, one I’ll never forget. Apparently my attention to detail was nothing more than a misguided attempt at fitting in, so you can imagine my dismay when I showed up to a class full of Chinese girls in blue leotards. They were tall, lean and graceful; I was short, pink and far too focused on what I looked like to pay any attention to what I was supposed to be doing. You see, the lesson I learned was not that one must phone ahead to get the dress code (though it might be recommended), it’s that fitting in is an effect of showing up, not the other way around. Often we’re so scared of not fitting in, that we avoid or even stay away from situations we’d really like to be. Unfortunately, had I known ahead of time that I was going to be the pink flamingo flailing around in a sea of swans, I probably wouldn’t have shown up at all. Sometimes it’s better not to do too much research. You run the risk of scaring yourself out of doing it altogether or building enough intellectual knowledge that you tell yourself you don’t need the actual experience because you already know it.
Despite how traumatized I was showing up to a ballet class in pink, and despite developing an oversensitivity to wearing the right outfit, I’m happy I can look back on those experiences and see how much I’ve grown. How could I have known better? How can we ever truly know? It’s what makes life interesting and exciting; it’s what allows us to see ourselves – who we are and who we are not. When I was little, I didn’t know I was separate from my pink tutu, that I wasn’t defined by my pink tutu, that it wasn’t my identity. Now I can see very clearly, it was just a pink tutu, and I feel compassion for those moments of distress. It’s funny actually, I also remember making paper mache pigs in first grade. We covered balloons in newspaper and glue, used egg cartons for ears and pipe cleaner for a tail. I remember taking great pains to evenly paint a thick pink coat, to get the ears perfectly glued, and his eyes looking in the right direction. At one point during this process, I looked over, probably remembering I hadn’t recently absorbed oxygen, and saw that one of my classmates had painted her pig blue. BLUE! I experienced the same shock and horror as I did that first day of ballet, only this day it was projectively through my friend. Didn’t she know pigs were supposed to be pink? I hadn’t even considered venturing beyond my experience of what I knew to be true. I had been afraid of what might happen if I didn’t color inside the lines, it was unknown territory, but after looking at her bright blue creation, I was envious. I, too, would like to have painted a pig blue. Probably that particular friend would have shown up to ballet in her underwear and been fine with it, that was just how she was. Being older now, I have different rules and hopefully have grown out of the most limiting of perceptual boundaries. But the reality is, I wouldn’t know. I still color in the lines as I perceive them and anything outside is slightly dim in comparison, yet to be illuminated. In many ways, that’s how I see the world. Like a coloring book where I create the lines and I fill in the colors – using as many or as few as I want, as vibrant or as dull. I can either remain inside, or I can step over the line to see what’s on the other side. Perhaps in doing so, I will see there is a bigger picture to be filled.