Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thick Ankles

The crash-and-burn of my ballet career (which was in fact before the actual career part ever got started) may be summed up with two words: thick ankles. Such was the pronouncement about me made to my mother by my principal teacher at North Carolina School of the Arts at the time, whom I'll call (with liberties) Madame S. This was at the end of the Fall 1984 semester, my last at NCSA, which had contained nothing but grueling classes, casting disappointments, and rehearsals for ballets in which I would ultimately not dance. I remember the way "thick ankles" was said, with some disdain and a shrug of hopelessness, as if it didn't matter what other qualities I possessed—fleetness was best among them, as was the passion I felt—the genetic anatomy of a body cannot be helped. My fifteen-year-old dancing self of course translated this as code-speak for "fat," which I most definitely was not. Any photograph of me from that time period will attest to the opposite. When you're fifteen, however, you will believe what others tell you about yourself more than you will believe the evidence of your own eyes or your own heart. In fact, as it turns out, my "thick ankles" were really just a single ankle, or rather the space immediately above the right ankle. One year (plus several weeks) after Madame S's verdict, the offending ankle was X-rayed, at the insistence of my mother who noticed a bit of a limp when I came home for winter break from my new school in 1985. The lower segment of my right tibia was revealed to be not at all "fat" in fact, but incredibly, dangerously thin: my bone, tenderly nursing a growing tumor, was declared by an orthopedic surgeon to be "the thickness of an eggshell." So much for Madame S.; it was time to say hello to Sloan-Kettering. This all seems to be a lifetime ago, but I have kept one thing from those final dancing days, a parting gift from Madame S., which has become my own internal shorthand. At times when I am tempted to feel overly critical of myself, especially of my appearance, I summon forth the superior-sounding voice of Madame S., sweeten it with the thick syrup of irony, and bite down hard: whatever else may seem less than perfect, at least it's not as bad as having (stage whisper) thick ankles! With time on my side, it nearly always gets a good laugh from the woman in the mirror.


  1. Wow! Can't wait for your bildungsroman about a strong girl with amazing experiences(and "thick ankles", if you're feeling autobiographical...).

  2. so what happeend to the thick ankle? i suppose it's not there any more

  3. Actually, there is still a slight bowing out on the side-front ankle area of my right leg. I don't think anyone would really notice it if they didn't know to look... or unless the significant scars running down the front of my lower right leg drew attention to the area first. So, the one ankle is still a little thick, I guess. Both swell up if I eat too much salt or have some extra weight on (too many koulouria?) but that's another matter entirely.