I’m still processing much of our European trip. We experienced so much—in such a short amount of time. An image that has stuck with me, more than any other, is that of the immortalized young ballerina, Marie van Goethem. The idyllic, romanticized life of Degas’ La Petite Danseuse de 14 ans is far from the reality of the horrors of her young life.
Famous for his works surrounding the ballet, perhaps Degas understood the plight of his young subjects of the ballet?! Perhaps he hoped to shine light on a dark world—through his art. No one knows for sure. But the elegant, defiant stance of Degas’ ballerina no longer mystifies me, but instead crushes my mama heart to pieces
Referred to as “petit rats” of the Paris Opera, the young dancers of the ballet came from working class families and were subjected not only to grueling rehearsal and performance schedules, but often forced into lives of prostitution. Poor and pretty, the student dancers fell prey to male “protectors” in the opera world. Usually, the ultra-rich financiers of the Paris Opera House itself. Little is known about the fate of Marie after posing for Degas’ statuette, but we do know she was unceremoniously released from the ballet, shortly after, for being late to a rehearsal.
Although Marie’s immortal arms stretch uncomfortably behind her back and the gangly legs of her fourteen-year-old body forever discipline themselves into a graceful pose, it’s her head held high with dignity that I’ll always remember. Perhaps she knew the honest-to-goodness truth about her worth deep in the recesses of her heart.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” – Song of Solomon 4:7
Indeed, we are made perfect in Him. We need not perform or achieve to receive His love. He alone is our protector and refuge. 💕