CAGAYAN DE ORO

Yoga and ballet are not gay

ONE of my biggest regrets in life is not taking the initiative to join my sisters when they started taking ballet lessons back when we were children. Dismissing ballet and dance in general as too soft and feminine, I stubbornly insisted on spending my free time just reading mountains of books, binge-watching martial arts movies on television, and playing hours of video games while they spent their entire Saturdays at the neighborhood dance studio.

Whenever they got home, they'd show off how flexible they've gotten. Back then, I was too proud to admit even to myself that they could now do high kicks and full splits like Jet Li and Donnie Yen. Had I been even a little wiser and a little humbler back then, perhaps my sisters' showing off would have been all it took for me to sign up for ballet lessons. Ballet was free for boys to encourage more male dancers, but like me, many other boys wouldn't even give it a second thought.

And among the boys who did take ballet, only very rarely could you find dancers who actually did identify as gay. Only very few gay dancers could be said be “fairies” then, since most of them tend to gravitate toward hip-hop, jazz, and ballroom instead. Compared to other dance styles, ballet is simply too difficult, too demanding; and unlike the female physique, most male bodies simply aren't as naturally flexible or graceful.

But even male dancers can attain swan-like litheness, so long as they are willing to put in the hard work, like what the titular character did in the movie Billy Elliot. In real life, you can see this in performances by the dancers of top dance companies like Ballet Manila and Ballet Philippines. I highly doubt that I could do them justice with brief descriptions – this is a very short column, after all – so if you're curious, I recommend that you watch clips of their dances on YouTube.

A few years ago, when I saw that I couldn't reach my toes when I bent over to touch them, I realized that by skipping ballet I had made a terrible mistake. Not only that, my arms were so weak that I could barely manage to press 5-pound dumbbells ten times over my head, and my belly was beginning to sag conspicuously through my shirt. Why is it that we only very clearly see the right choices we should've done long after we've made the wrong ones?

It was after this realization that I began making trips to Booksale to stockpile issues of Men's Health magazine. I made a note of the exercises I could comfortably do with little to no equipment and got to work, and before long I started to see results. Chores like picking up and carrying heavy objects were no longer uncomfortable, people I know started giving me compliments, but more importantly, I could fit into my old clothes again!

I was happy for my progress, but I still wasn't satisfied. It's one thing to work out the body part by part, but I knew enough biology to suspect that this approach alone wouldn't give me the integrally balanced physique typical of serious, professional ballet performers. Knowing what I know now, I envy them for the fact that all they have to do to make a living is just to practice, perform, and stay fit and flexible for the rest of their lives. To put it very bluntly, a ballet performance is just a workout performed on stage showcasing the full range of the human body's movement, flexibility, and practical strength. Notwithstanding my attempt at a bare-bones description, it goes without saying that ballet is so much more than that.

Today, one sister does ballet professionally, and the other no longer does. However, she still keeps fit and limber by doing yoga regularly. I have decided to do the same. In my experience, yoga also follows the same principles as ballet in that it builds flexibility and that you will definitely get fit if you stick with it. But while ballet is a performance, yoga is a meditation, albeit one that aims to harmonize mind and body. Also, where ballet is dynamic and focuses on movements, yoga is static and focuses on, well, your ability to focus as you maintain exotic poses that stretch not just your muscles but also the limits of your endurance.

I used to balk at the prospect of joining yoga classes when I saw that those who attend them were mostly women (like Zumba). Thankfully, I gained enough sense to conclude that getting fit is more important than avoiding embarrassment, so I joined in. I didn't have a mat of my own, so I borrowed one of the old, tattered, and sweat-soaked ones laying about at the gym. Some of my gym-mates make it a point to bring their new, brightly-colored mats to the gym for post-workout stretching, but I think it's a waste that they would never consider doing yoga.

It's been more than a year now since I started, and I have lost a considerable amount of body fat since. I do other kinds of exercise, too, so it can't be just yoga to thank for that. However, I'm more flexible now than I used to be, and I believe that yoga's being a workout for both mind and body has helped me write better, too! Perhaps yoga is the cure for writer's block we struggling writers have all been looking for.


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