Back to First: A dancer returns to her homeland

By Annie Carroll

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I grew up in a Victorian townhouse in Sydney’s inner-east. The kind with creaky floorboards and ornately corniced ceilings. I can still recall the uneven door frames that allowed angled slits of light to creep down the hallways. And how many steps it took from my bedroom to the bathroom in the dead of night.

The walls and corners of that house are not just imprinted in my memory; they formed me, bruised me, and protected me.

While I was studying at The Royal Ballet School in London, I was able to return home to Sydney for my summer breaks. Each time I did, the house seemed to shrink as my mind expanded with the incredible breadth of my experiences in London. The house was never really the same to me after I left it. It took on new meaning. I suppose this is what is meant by the expression ‘you can never go home again’.

Not long after I moved to Melbourne to dance with The Australian Ballet, my parents sold the house.

Not since then have I felt such a lurching sense that I was well and truly out of the nest.

Because even though the house was not the same home it once was, it was a link from my past to my present and felt so inextricably a part of who I was.

Two years later, I retired from my ballet career. And although this was a deeply disruptive and difficult change, it was surprisingly easier to swallow than the loss of that house. Of course, adjusting to a life without daily class was not easy. Because beyond being the most essential part of maintaining strength and technique, daily class was a time for me to focus entirely on myself. How often do we have the chance to do that in our lives?

There are those people who are lucky enough to be able to return to the house they grew up in. And then there are those of us who are lucky enough to understand a place so well that it does not need walls to feel like a home.

I left my career having reached a point at which my muscles had inhabited my technique. I was at one with ballet, even though it didn’t always feel that way.

Leaving that behind left me feeling strange, but not totally disjointed. Because unlike the house which I can only visit from the distance of the footpath or the detachment of my dreams, I can always return to ballet. And although it will never feel the same – much like the house didn’t after I had left it – it will always be there for me to return to.

So last week, four years out of my ballet career, I had the chance to take class. And as my muscles reawakened and remembered, so did a feeling of being more centered than I had known during my career.

Distance had given me a new found appreciation and perspective on what was once routine. I gently rested my left hand on the barre, placed my feet in first position, took a breath for plies and realised that I was home. And, for the first time, I truly knew it.