Our first photo, in all my records on both computer and phone. By now, there are thousands, like all proud horse owners.
I want to write about beginnings, because this is my beginning at blogging.
Why am I starting this? Because I am lucky enough to have a horse of my own, and he wakes up in me a river of thoughts, ideas and reflections, which overflow outside my brain. What is inside my brain is for me alone, but what flows over I want to send it out into the world. Like a message in a bottle, to see if it will ever come back.
Who am I? It is a hard question to answer, because who says we have to be just one thing? And that is exactly what I grapple with daily, my dual identity.
On one hand I am a professional ballet dancer. Dance has been a part of my life for 22 years, professionally for 8 years. Against all odds, I followed my love, my joy, my passion for human movement, specifically ballet, until it lead me out of my home country of Australia to Europe, backed by a mountain of support and love from my family and friends.
I graduated with my dance qualifications after 2 years at a very strict and demanding school in Zürich, Switzerland, and headed out into the stormy seas of the dance industry. First, I landed an elusive one year contract in a tiny yet incredible dance company in Germany. But at the same time, the Euro dropped out from under the sturdy Germany economy, and theatres across the country were in trouble. Against my will, I was on the move again. Under immense duress and with great effort and upheaval, I upgraded that job to a better one in Warsaw, the capitol of Poland. I became the first Australian to work for the Polish National Ballet, in Europes largest Opera House.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would have the chance to visit this city… let alone live and work here! And yet, here I am! And until very recently, I spent years here solo, as the only Australian in my company, which is wear a lot of my time is focused around. Truth be told, it has been a very lonely existence at times.
As soon as I arrived in Poland, I could feel the dust start to settle. And although life at the theatre, my career, and life was by no means easy or straightforward, there was a nagging voice in the back of my head the whole time. Upon closer inspection, I realised that voice had been there for as long as I could remember.
I was one of those kids with ‘Horses on the Brain’. It was what I thought about and dreamed about. I drew them, endless reams of paper sketches and scribbles, exploring the magical equine outline. They were the topic of my childhood games with my best friends, the subject of our conversations. On the weekends, I went to dance class.
Being a suburban kid in Australia, whose hardworking parents sometimes just only managed to scrape together enough money for my dance tuition, horses were not easily accessible to me. I might have asked once for riding lessons, but even then I knew I was pushing it. Logistically and financially it was impossible to establish a regular hobby of horses when I was a child.
But every chance I got to be around them, I did that. Every camping trip and family holiday, the first things I asked for and looked for… trail riding centres, horse rides… sometimes just driving out of city limits and spotting sleek round horses grazing in roadside paddocks was enough to perk my eyes up. It was a crapshoot if I succeeded to get in a ride or not, but sometimes I got to ride some nose to tail, long suffering trail ponies and I loved every second.
My Aunt, Dad’s sister, had ‘gone bush’ many years ago, and had about 20 acres of land one hours drive from Melbourne. At the time of my childhood, Aunty Anne was going through her horsey phase, like many city folk who go country. She had a cranky shetland pony (aren’t they all) called Semi, an incredible Appaloosa mare named Sarah, (who was usually on loan to the local Pony Club and only sporadically available at the farm) and an enormous Clydesdale cross Thoroughbred gelding called Echo, whom I worshipped but was also terrified of.
That poor pony Semi put up with me, bless her. Well into her 20’s by the time I rolled around, she was well experienced with small humans, and how to handle them aptly. Every school holidays my brother and I were shipped off to the farm for a week and you bet, if I was not playing with my cousins, or riding my bike, I was in the paddock with her. Hours, and hours I spent brushing Semi’s never ending shedding coat, standing on rolling hills amongst flocks of screeching sulfur-crested Cockatoos, and pink flamboyant Galahs. I rode her when I could, and when she acquiesced to the activity! When Sarah was Pony Club holiday I was in hog heaven, that mare was a gem and was the first real horse I enjoyed independently. But all of this was basically with a child’s instinct, my Aunt gave some basic directions; two beat posting for trot, left, right and stop. The rest was just a kid on a horse, loving life. Never was there any kind of ‘training’.
But eventually I would head back to town.
Years rolled by and dance started to take over. Teenage hormones arrived and I plumb lost all memory of happy childhood fantasy, and what my instincts said made me hum. Dance became the focus of my life around 13. A casual mention of my after school pursuits in Gym class one day instantly made me Social Pariah Number 1 at my quaint Catholic High School of 1000 students. It pushed me to be goal orientated; the more my peers jeered and joked and insulted me for what I enjoyed doing, the more I clung to dance as a life raft of identity, in a world which seemed to redouble its attempt daily, to strip me of my sense of self. Dance became my beacon, my golden ticket to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of the world of Performing Arts. A world I was sure that queer youth and eccentric, bookish, lanky weirdos like me would find a cosy nest of like minded friends. I dreamed of a culture, where dance was not a ridiculed, or belittled endeavour… basically I dreamed of a world where I could be at peace. At peace with who I am, and what I liked and loved, and find other people who liked the same things. In my naive mind, me and these future friends and colleagues would laugh hand in hand as we trotted into a sunset of endless joyful stage productions, love and hard work for our craft, and stimulating artistic enterprises…
One one hand, yes, all of that happened. I did find that ‘nest’ in Zūrich, and to a lesser extent in Germany and Warsaw too.
See, everyone is ready for the bright side of something, the one bathed in light and familiarity. But nobody is prepared for the other side, the unseen, unspoken and unsightly. Together with all the wonderful things dance brought to my life, came with it a lot of pain, confusion, anger and if I may be so bold to say, abuse. Not usually the slap you in the face and cuss you out type, although I have seen that happen too, but usually a corrosive, pervading culture of abuse infects the performing arts industries. The classical ballet world being not immune to it. And I believe it is not spoken of enough.
Why did my brain keep coming back to it? Sitting in my studio flat in Warsaw, watching my Facebook news feed roll past of all the dancer parties I was not invited to -again- weekend after weekend. Being the sole colleague of a far flung country, amongst a people whose history taught to be afraid of outsiders, compounded by my strong sense of independence, forceful will and the passionate way I would explore my own interests and ideas, made me -again- someone nobody wanted to be around. I was under a constant weight of stress, both that which I loaded on myself, and that which came externally, and that can make even the most tender hearted person a total pill to deal with. I found myself planning an entire week around my unpredictable work schedule and a lonely trip to the supermarket, I realised I had to take action to ‘save my life’. Or, face down a long future of empty time. The pain forced me to look deeper inside and the answer seemed to have four legs, a graceful neck, a flowing tail and smell sweetly like grass.
Needless to say, in Poland I discovered, properly, horses. I found a passion which set an equal duality to spar with dance, like two columns holding up the roof of my life.
Skip forward a few years and the dream horse to beat all dream horses came into my life. I found Sanson, and like a bolt of lightning from a blue sky I found a creature who seemed to look past all of my layers, right into the heart of who I am, and without words, put me at peace. I felt seen, understood, comforted and validated by this horse.
Our story, like all of the stories I have to tell, was not simple, straight forwards, or plain.
How did it happen?
Hang around to find out. 😉