Wearing Pajamas All Day
I keep a Swedish laundry basket in my bedroom, hand-woven of a single, acid-proof, stainless steel wire, shiny as hell. It holds a big pile of black pajamas: a rotating supply of freshly laundered, Lycra-infused, cotton leggings and matching, long-sleeved, scoop-neck tops—successors to the body-skimming tights and leotards I once wore every day.
As a dancer, I changed outfits round-the-clock: pajamas to street clothes, street clothes to dance wear, sweat-drenched leotards to dry ones, back into street wear to rush from the ballet studio to the theater, and into a tracksuit for warm-up barre. Then, the costumes: several in one night, often in an ultra-quick, backstage struggle with a prickly tutu and a fragile tiara and, after the applause, change to go home and finally slip into sleepwear. Most mornings, I’d wake up and just wish I could stay in my pajamas all day.
I do now, in my black tops and leggings—all night and for most of the following day. The ease and simplicity of my cotton jersey uniform is a daily reward for the grueling years of physical effort, training, rehearsals, performances, and the continual grind of costume changes—on and off the stage.
When I was a young ballet student, pale pink tights were de rigueur, as dark colors obscured fat layers and muscle definition scrutinized by critical teachers. Graduating to professional status, I received autonomy over my practice wardrobe (but not much else) and ditched the pink pantyhose, except when performing in classical works. In the studio, after a shameful period of experimenting with neon-colored, flowered, or leopardskin-printed catsuits and diagonally striped, bum baring bodysuits, I settled on elegant black.
Today, sitting upright in front of my computer, comfortable in a matte black, second skin, I use two index fingers to pound the keyboard. My years of ballet training didn’t include practical skills like touch typing, but I learned self-discipline—now expressed in hours of writing and editing, a strict ritual made easier through the simple, daily choreography that reduces getting dressed to a quick rhythm of: pull on, pull off, wash, dry, repeat.
After my stage career ended, I ran a ballet school for over twenty-five years. The little girls came to lessons with their underpants twisted in welts beneath their pink tights, but I let them be. Dance should be fun, not a worry about appearance; and good muscle definition isn’t the definition of happiness and self-esteem. When they were older, I introduced them to the concept of ballet tights as undergarment: a ballerina, I explained, owns as many pairs as she does knickers.
One of the greatest dancers of the twentieth century, the late Margot Fonteyn, came close to abandoning the stage when, after years of use, her silk dance tights began to disintegrate. Fabrication had been discontinued, and she claimed the new, nylon quality irritated her by bunching up in the toes of her pointe shoes. Another ballerina of the Royal Ballet came to the rescue: Svetlana Beriosova had just retired, and she gifted Fonteyn her entire supply of pure silk hose, enabling the prima ballerina assoluta to continue her career well into her fifties.
I probably own as many pajamas as I once did tights. I replace them when they wear out—and worry: what will happen if the Swiss manufacturer goes out of business or terminates production one day? Where will I find another signature outfit?
Maybe something else will turn up—sleek, comfortable, washable—a different pajama that screams:
DANCER! BALLET! DIVA!
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Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian dancer, writer and translator. Her literary work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. When not writing her memoir, Escape Artists, she tweaks fonts and photos on her website geniablum.com, and haunts Twitter and Instagram as @geniablum. This is the first in a series of short pieces, based on Blum's personal opinion and experience.