Former ballet dancer Mary Gulivindala finally found a use for the bag of frozen peas in her freezer. She uses it for the right shoulder injury that flared up when she tried to do some of her old dancing moves. Her dog, Henri, who has some pretty good moves of his own, looks on and empathizes. (Photo by James Gulivindala)

Former ballet dancer Mary Gulivindala finally found a use for the bag of frozen peas in her freezer. She uses it for the right shoulder injury that flared up when she tried to do some of her old dancing moves. Her dog, Henri, who has some pretty good moves of his own, looks on and empathizes. (Photo by James Gulivindala)

by Mary Gulivindala

“Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

I am a dancer. Well, I WAS a dancer. I have a BFA in Dance. OK, I graduated in 1991 but still, I do have the degree. I had a successful career for 20 years. I do not dance anymore. I don’t exercise at all. I’m 30 pounds heavier than I was when I was working. It’s all good, though. I’m OK. I have body dysmorphia, a mental condition that involves a belief that one’s own appearance is unusually defective, worthy of hiding or fixing, while one’s thoughts about it are pervasive and intrusive. I look in the mirror and see the woman I was at 28 years old. No problem!

My dog Henri and I like to watch yoga, cardio dance and exercise programs on TV. We actually feel like we did the class afterwards, even though we didn’t. We’re sweaty and thirsty. Can anyone relate to that? I think I’d call it exercise osmosis. I eat junk food, a lot of it. I don’t sleep much. My spiritual life consists of watching “Oprah’s Masters” show once in a blue moon while lying on the couch. Once in a while I do my own thing on the beach, a mix between dance stretches and yoga. I just turned 48.

We stumbled upon these two beautiful women on YouTube: (youtu.be/SQlH_pHSa24). They have a video called “Sweaty Betty’s Boot Camp,” an exercise workout for dancers. We watched a few minutes of the video and decided that we could do that. Now, could I keep up? The answer was “No.” Three minutes into the video, during the warm up, when they got to the four jumps in the “first position” section, Henri quit, and I was dragging. I do have excuses, and I will use them.

I have arthritis in my metatarsal joint in my left foot. You don’t know what that means? I have arthritis in my big toe. All those years of “releve” (a position in which the dancer rises from any position to balance on the toes of one or both feet) standing on tippy toe have obviously caught up to me. I can’t wear high heels anymore, for example. Jumping up and down is something I can’t do anymore, but I have tried. My 12-year-old son just bounced down the steps and started jumping next to me for inspiration. Thanks, James!

These pretty ladies in the “Sweaty Betty’s Boot Camp” video do multiple series of arm positions and swings. However, I have a right shoulder injury that I will have for life. It flares up when I try to exercise, as in trying to follow the moves on this video. I’m sitting here now with a bag of frozen peas on my right shoulder as I write. (It would not help much if the peas were freshly picked.)

There was a time when I would have pushed through these exercises full-out in pain, my ego saying “Go, go, go!’ which is why I’m all busted up now. Today I’m older and wiser, and I admit defeat easily. Did I quit? No way. (I have dancer ego PTSD.) I modified the exercises to suit my body. One of my favorite words is “modify.” Say it a few times. It feels good.

So I can’t jump with my feet in first position like a penguin anymore. I jumped with my feet parallel. I couldn’t stick with it, allowing my shoulder to take my hefty weight while I did leg raises, so I laid an arm out, head resting right on it, guilt-free. I did the exercise but modified.

I’m stiff right now, 20 minutes later, and my butt hurts. That is a very good sign. In two days I’ll be a cripple; even better! In this moment, I plan to do it again, exercise, that is. The point is that I did it (modified). Will I ever be the athletic, lean woman of my past? Of course not.

Do I wish I was? Of course I do, but I’d also like to own a house on a beach in Maui. Neither one is going to happen. Martha Graham once said, “Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.” I don’t need to be great. I do have passion. I am who I am, although my name is Mary, not Betty.

Mary Gulivindala is a resident of Chestnut Hill. If you see a 48-year-old woman who is NOT dancing down Highland Avenue, it is probably Mary.

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