En Pointe

I was never very good at ballet. I danced at Ballet Hawaii for thirteen years, beginning in a pale blue leotard and just learning how to plié at the barre, progressing to a demure black leotard and perfecting my pas de bourrée, and finally culminating in a leotard of any color –a privilege given to those who have made it to the highest level– and doing fouettés rond de jambe en tournant. As someone who isn’t gifted with natural turn out, flexibility, or turning ability, it didn’t take long for me to accept the fact that ballet was merely an extracurricular activity and would not turn into an eventual career.

However, an extracurricular activity is a weak term for the role that ballet had and still has in my life. Growing up, I continued to take lessons due to a variety of forces: friends, parents, and an unwavering respect for the greatest dance in the world. Thanks to ballet, my circle of friends expanded beyond schoolmates. Class, to an eleven-year-old, unsurprisingly functioned as mostly a social affair, as some of my fondest memories of ballet consist of playing games before class, gossiping during class, and going shopping after class. In a way, the relationships formed while learning a choreography that relies on each individual dancer are more personal, more instinctive than those formed while sitting at a desk facing a teacher in a classroom at school.

My parents encouraged me to commit to just a few activities outside of school because “one must develop, not just dabble”; and so, ballet lessons, piano lessons, and even art classes in the summer persisted throughout my childhood. This commitment to… commit is something I value even more so now. Ballet and piano, my two most consistent extracurricular activities, define the way I view and appreciate the world.

I stopped dancing ballet as soon as I started college — and ballet is not something one can just pick up again after years of inactivity. Regardless, I still catch myself pirouetting in the living room, doing grand jetés through the hallway, and standing on demi pointe when washing the dishes. I even attribute my ability to walk briskly [and in little to no pain] in four-inch heels to all the years I spent dancing on the balls of my feet.

Ballet is basically doing everything your body is not supposed to naturally. I’d argue that no other form of exercise or dance [for, is ballet a sport or an art?] comes close to the same level of physical activity and grace that ballet requires. Constant criticism from instructors, judgments from other dancers, and, perhaps most acerbic of all, one’s own insecurities can undoubtedly scar a malleable teen. I don’t know any friends from ballet who aren’t at least a little hesitant to eventually send their own daughter to ballet. Yet, in the end, most of them probably will — not just because parents tend to replicate their own lives through their children anyway, but because, after practicing technique after technique, performing in concert halls alongside symphonies, and setting their standards of refinement so, so high, anything else would just seem like a cop out.

You can spot a dancer a block away: her steps are more agile, her posture is better than average, and she can pull off tights way better than you can. Every time I wander around Lincoln Center, a little part of me always feels a twinge of jealousy as I watch ballet dancers, in their neat buns and Capezio bags, saunter off to another day of dancing at NYCB. However, this jealousy always becomes overshadowed by both my happiness that, for at least a short time, I was once learning what they have accomplished, and by my awe that they, in a world of bent knees and flexed feet, made it to the top.

Dancing Balanchine's "Serenade," one of the most beautiful choreographies I've danced
Performing Balanchine’s “Serenade,” one of the most beautiful choreographies I’ve ever danced

Quantifying the Unquantifiable: An Anniversary Post

Next week, Anthony and I celebrate our one-year anniversary. This is a big deal for both of us, but especially for me because I have never been in a relationship for this long. I first attended an all girls’ private school for thirteen years, and then a small liberal arts college full of hipsters who were “too postmodern” for monogamy. Two years ago, if you had asked me if I could picture myself in a serious relationship at the age of 22, I’d have laughed and said, “I wouldn’t be able to put up with anyone long enough.” It seemed like a reasonable hypothesis; I had spent most of my life as a proudly independent woman who dabbled, albeit quite passionately, in fleeting crushes, and had more fun gossiping with her friends about the men with whom she happened to be involved than actually dealing with the guy. Of course I didn’t want to get involved in a serious relationship.

Anthony proved my hypothesis wrong. In fact, he proved a lot of things wrong. He proved that not all guys want open relationships, not all young people are scared of discussing a future with their significant other, and, most importantly, when you’ve found someone you love, you’re not gonna let them go.

For those of you who read Anthony’s insightful post about relationships, I am now here to prove him wrong. I, too, can be publicly mushy. So bear with me.

How I have been able to put up with Anthony for an entire year:

  • His intellectual curiosity. Possibly the most desirable quality that can be found in a person, intellectual curiosity keeps people young, life exciting, and conversations interesting.
  • He can make me laugh and understand my humor, which is often esoteric and sarcastic. The saying is trite but true: Laughter is necessary for any successful relationship.
  • He’s an atheist Filipino (yes, they do exist!). It’s so rare to be able to have discussions with someone who shares both my beliefs and my cultural background.
  • He is an optimist, which perfectly balances out my unwavering cynicism.
  • He reaches for my hand whenever we’re in public. I’ve never been one for public displays of affection, but, somehow, I find Anthony’s desire to showcase our relationship endearing. Plus, holding hands means a lower chance of losing each other on crowded New York sidewalks.
  • He gives me good mood nuzzles, which I constantly need when stressed about the many obstacles in life, e.g., not finding parmesan at the grocery store, losing my favorite yellow cashmere cardigan.
  • His family is an anomaly — it’s large, tight-knit, and everyone loves each other. I didn’t know those still existed in America.
  • He makes leftovers taste better than the original, whether it’s warming up pizza on a skillet or making garlic fried rice out of plain white rice.
  • He is very good at folding clothes.
  • He can complete the Rubrik’s cube faster than anyone I know.
  • He gives great massages. Often.
  • He values my opinion but is not afraid to argue if he disagrees with it.
  • He’d rather watch Hitchcock and have a two-person wine-and-cheese party at home with me than go out to a crowded bar.
  • There are fine lines between giving me my space and being too absent, between being affectionate and being overbearing. Anthony has mastered those fine lines beautifully.
  • He’s a beer snob. Drinking with him has taught me that I like dark ales. Plus, I could never date someone who drank Coors or PBR or other piss-like liquids.
  • He’s organized. More organized than me, in fact. I may create the lists and calendars, but he’s the one who keeps our room tidy.
  • He is constantly trying to please me, and by this, I don’t mean that he puts my happiness before his own. Such a relationship would be unhealthy. The stronger a relationship becomes, the more the happiness of both partners align. What made us happy when we were single has changed since going out with each other. More often than not, my happiness is now consistent with that of Anthony’s, and when that’s the case, he does everything in his power to satisfy.
  • He eats real food. After spending half my life with diet-obsessed friends from ballet, and then my college years in Portland surrounded by vegans, it’s almost too predictable that I would end up with someone who appreciates a good steak — cooked medium-rare, of course.
  • I have been told that this is the time to explore my options, to not get tied down to any particular guy, to have fun in my youth; I don’t have to settle down with anyone until I have lost my looks or charm. Apparently, this is what twenty-something-year-olds are supposed to think. I seem to have found the one self-proclaimed Relationship Guy in his twenties who eagerly rejected these standards of being progressively hip and instead never gave up on his lifelong dream of finding a long-term girlfriend.
  • He knows me, sometimes better than I know myself, and still (or thus?) loves me. He understands my odd obsessions, my sporadic bad moods, my irrational insecurities. Just as my favorite character said in Anna Karenina, “I love him, and therefore understand him,” love entails a deep understanding of the beloved. Without both a desire to understand and a success in that understanding, love cannot flourish.

That was merely an abridged list; I can’t possibly think of everything right now, and I doubt people would want to read all that anyway. Besides, it seems almost blasphemous to create a list of justifications for being in love — and this is coming from someone with a penchant for quantifying the unquantifiable.

You’ve probably noticed that most things on the list revolve around feeling respected, appreciated, and secure. This is, in essence, why we begin relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but those with our careers and with our platonic friends. Humans want to be appreciated for their passions and idiosyncrasies. I know I’ve found my dream career when I deem its main purpose respectable and stimulating, and it takes advantage of my talents and interests. I’ve found a friend when that person seeks my presence and is someone I can call up whenever something upsets me. A romantic partner is the most important person you choose to share your life with because of exactly that — you are choosing to share your life with that person. Unlike other people in one’s life, a romantic partner has many roles. This person knows the intimate details of your life, shares your living space, and has the possibility of sharing the rest of your life. I have never spent so many hours of every day with a single person since my mother took off from work to take care of me as a baby. And you know what? I have enjoyed every hour.

This past year has defined my life. It has felt like more than a year, but at the same time, it has flown by without me even realizing. Anthony’s put up with me this long. Hopefully, he’s up for more.