ESZTER PETRÁNY

KEEPIN' IT DELICATE

When I got to know that the theme of this zine will be ’femme fragile’, I had two instant thoughts. First of all, I knew that I have experienced several aspects of either being or being seen as ’the fragile one’, therefore I have a lot to say. Secondly, I questioned right away what I think we – and under we I mean all genders, all people in general – often question as well and that is this pejorative connotation behind the word ’fragile’. As a once-upon-a-time-good-student and as a mother of a few academic works, I knew I can’t skip one step before going into some (bitter)sweet stories of my life, I have to open the online ethymology dictionary. Let’s see.

While frigility^ is “a quality of getting easily broken”, delicacy^^ is a “quality of being addicted to sensuous pleasure”, it is “fineness, softness, tender loveliness” (sophisticated sexiness). Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to identify with these latter ones, although in my view fragility and delicacy are often essential partners of each other. Also, the best books and movies of the world history already showed us that in order to bring out our most beautiful layers, we do need to die a bit once in a blue moon. Just a bit. We all need those huge waves in our lives – and since everybody works on different amplitudes, ‘huge’ is relative as relative as the amount of given drama to it.  

We often identify one’s physical fragility with his/her mental and emotional nature. In my case this is not even so wrong, because my 52 kg heavy/light body pairs with a highly sensitive personality. However, these two attributes don’t necessarily go hand by hand and also, high sensitivity can reflect sometimes as ‘too sensitive’ or as ‘getting easily broken’, but it can also bring wonderful effects, like being deeply moved by beauty or having a rich and complex inner life. Behind sensitivity there is a huge amount of strength there as well, so let’s not mix these terms and please, avoid labelling people too quickly! 

“A highly sensitive person is (HSP) is a term for those who are thought to have an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. Highly sensitive people are thought to make up roughly 20% of the general population. High sensitivity and introversion also share similarities but are distinct personality traits; however, there may be some overlap between the two. Sensory processing sensitivity is also sometimes confused with a condition called sensory processing disorder, although the two are believed to be distinct. It is less common to be a highly sensitive person, and society tends to be built around people who notice a little less and are affected a little less deeply.”^^^

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For several years I seriously thought that there was something wrong with me, but in fact I just needed more time to learn how to handle all those stimuli and the strong emotions which they caused in me. I needed time to understand myself, my reactions and then to use what’s valuable in all that. It is a gift to be able to sense those details. In an extremely simplified way we could even say that fragility is rather a form of weakness, while delicacy refers to some sort of a hidden value. I try to look for the value! 

    I grew up as a little stick figure, first with having average hight and thin body, then, from my early teenage years on with a tall and thin body. On top of this I was the youngest child in the family, which only strengthened this character of mines. Being the ‘little one’, the one that – in my grandmother’s opinion – needed protection and care all the time, did not really help. Thankfully or not, but my brother countervailed this theory and he educated me in a way that I rather needed to learn how to survive. Going biking with him we drove through old factory territories and huge hills, and when I screamed that I can’t go so fast with my kid bike, he said I need to keep the rhythm, otherwise we will lose each other. Going skiing with him, I really wished to slide together down those slopes, but he just shouted that I am crazy slow and I need to speed up. This attitude followed through our everyday life, which was a little bit unorthodox, but also, I became a cool kid who learned how to pee while standing, listened to Nirvana and did not cry when she cut herself. I also had a little rabel in me, who wanted to wash off all those labels and do all the things that the older ones did. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I never gave up trying. 

With my physics I had a longer, rather permanent struggle, because although I found contemporary dance as the perfect language for my body and soul, on ballet classes I often got pushed into things harder than others, just because of my long, thin, ‘fragile’ body. Well, whether we talk about ballet, or any other techniques and styles, the more ‘fragility’ – and here I would really use the word ‘delicacy’ – we want to show to the audience, the bigger strength we need for that. One doesn’t even have to be a dancer to understand this, it’s simple physics: to stand on two legs, in slight plié (bent knees), with closed limbs takes less effort than standing on one leg in relevé (weight on the toes) with open limbs that reach to different directions. Less surface with the ground plus rather complex shapes of the body definitely disturbs the balance. That’s easy to imagine. Now add motion – and emotion – to it! Yes. We need an incredible amount of strength to then show delicacy and fragility in a controlled way, as it is wanted, needed. Also, we need to make that strength visible in order to have layers, colours, contrasts in our dance. Knowing this from experience I can easily say that in dance there is no fragility without keeping the strength. There can be weakness which ends up in losing control, but that’s not the same. Delicacy – for me – is all about finding those interesting, valuable details and then using them in the perfect moments. Delicacy is art itself. The beauty of dance and life as well! My suggestion is to find it, keep improving it and never lose it! 

These last lines I am writing months after the text above. Knowing that an ongoing, cruel war is happening in Ukraine, seeing Mariupol and Kiev – cities where we performed in the last years several times – in such states, hearing the stories from those who escaped from underground shelters are all strong factors which made me question if I have the right writing about this topic from my personal, close, one could even say selfish perspective. As a Hungarian, I also strongly sense how fragile democracy is and how 12 years of a propaganda can influence so many people’s mindsets, value systems, how one creates ideologies and washes together a crime with sexual orientations, a justice system with religion, a chosen enemy with race, art with politics and – above all – money with everything. We could forever zoom in and out, as even the planet, our existence is gradually becoming more and more fragile. This time I chose to talk about my story, from my intimate view, through my experiences, but I can’t escape thinking about our global issues either. There is a saying I once heard in an interview, which stuck with me and which I tell myself every now and then, especially when I find myself in challenging situations where my fragile side tends to lean into weakness, or where my strength rules out my soft side: “Water. I want to be like water. Strong enough to hold up a ship, but able to slip through your fingers.” – I think it’s a good one, that’s somehow the way I think about my own fragility, and also, it’s just a beautiful picture that helps to stay human, when something goes a little bit off.

^fragile (adj.): 1510s, ”liable to sin, morally weak;” c. 1600, ”liable to break;” a back-formation from fragility, or else from French fragile (Old French fragele, 14c.), from Latin fragilis ”easily broken”, from root of frangere ”to break” (from PIE root *bhreg- ”to break”). Transferred sense of ”of frail constitution” (of persons) is from 1858.” (Source: fragile | Etymology, origin and meaning of fragile by etymonline; 06.02.2022)

^^delicate (adj.): late 14c., of persons ”self-indulgent, loving ease;” also ”sensitive, easily hurt, feeble;” of things, ”delightful,” from Latin delicatus ”alluring, delightful, dainty,” also “addicted to pleasure, luxorious, effeminate,” in Medieval Latin “fine, slender;” related to deliciae “pleasure, delight, luxury,” and delicere “to allure, entice,” from de “away” (see de-) + lacere “to lure, entice,” which is of uncertain origin. (Source: delicate | Etymology, origin and meaning of delicate by etymonline; 06.02.2022)

^^^What Is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? (verywellmind.com); 07.02.2022

Photos (c) Stefan Weinberger

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