"I know what you want," said the sea witch; "it is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess (..)Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.(…)”
She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart.(…)
Hans Christian Andersen
Today I went back to a dancing class, after a year of not being able to do any sports. The doctors said it is fine to go back to do whatever I want, and I just want to believe it. But it is not their back that hurts.
I joined a beginners contemporary dance class. After a year my body has changed, I have put weight on, my joints ache and my back keeps killing me, every day, every moment of the day.
I did contact for three years and contemporary dance for one. I was not particularly good or amazing. But now that I am back, every single little movement hurts. Even the simplest of the movements feels so much harder and difficult, more difficult than when I took a dancing lesson for the first time a few years ago. And I suddenly remember Andersen´s little mermaid, not the Disney version, but the real one. And I realise that the words he wrote a hundred years ago, that I read maybe 20 years ago, had remained somewhere in my brain, waiting to come alive.
I lie down and feel where my body gets in contact with the floor. And I feel the pain, radiating from the centre of my back, following my ribs, wrapping around my chest like a big long cuddle of a hurtful lover. We move around on the floor, moving in ways very different to normal life movements, and my joints start complaining, sending me silent messages through the nerves only I know about.
We stand up, we bent and allow our upper body to hang, and the spine breathes and the air comes in between the vertebrae in a painful kind of relieve. We keep bending and straightening up. I am familiar with this pain, when I bend to pick things up from the floor or I get up in the morning.
Then I lift my arms and we start moving them around. And different parts of my back muscles complains depending if they go up in circles, or straight, or around, or if they stay up on the side…
Working with the feet is such a relieve, and then we move on to a beginner choreography. And we have the music, and we dance a bit, mixing together all the elements with the different parts of the body, and we roll on the floor, and then stand up, and bend, and move our arms and bend our upper body and go down on the floor again and jump…And joint after joint complains, and all the muscles in my back find a moment to remind me of their existence.
Suddenly I can visualise the Little Mermaid dancing along this very same music, floating on cutting sharp knives. And I know exactly how she feels. I might not be the prettiest human being, or move as lightly as a dancer…but I know how it hurts and I am an expert at setting my heart on the wrong person. And something inside me moves with the music, and my dancing, and her dancing, and the sharp knives on her feet, and the huge axe across my waist, and the pang that pierces your heart and the blood that only you can see.
The class is over and I change. It is frustrating to have to start not from the beginning, but from a point before the beginning. I mix a couple of pain killers with some water and can’t find my little mermaid any more. She is probably back to being a daughter of the air. She still has two hundred years to go to find her soul. She still has hope, and so do I. After three fractures in my back, I might not float around like she did, but I am still dancing. And I smile, for her to count one year less of her three hundred.
Click here to read The Little Mermaid