I’ve loved ballet for as long as I can remember. I mean come on, what little girl didn’t love prancing around in a pink tutu with a tiara on her head? I know I did. But it was more than that. I remember thinking even as a little girl how beautiful and elegant the “older girls” at my ballet studio always looked. As I got older it wasn’t just their beauty and gorgeous costumes that had me enthralled it was their confidence, discipline and passion for a world that so few people really understand or even appreciate. Ballet dancers aren’t out there saving lives or making millions of dollars (in fact most ballerinas are lucky if they can pay their rent), but to me ballet has always been an essential part of life. Ballet is one of those lovely, and unfortunately rare, things that reminds us that against all odds there still is some beauty in the world. It’s a way to express ourselves, using the instrument of our bodies, to tell a story however simple or complex, however relevant to the times or romantic.
Although I no longer dance I do have to attribute much of who I am today to my life as a dancer. I started dancing at age 3 and continued seriously until around age 21. I danced many of the classic ballets, participated in competitions, spent most of my summers training in different intensive programs around the country and spent every day after school in the dance studio. I would leave school early everyday, hop in the car and practice in the studio from 3:30pm until 9:30pm almost everyday. While many of my friends spent their afternoons and weekends at the mall, at pep rallies and basketball games, I spent my at the barre (not bar, I was 15 for christ sakes). Sounds pretty intense huh?
The truth is I loved it. I was exhausted, always sore and constantly trying to balance my dance schedule with demanding school work and a social life, but it was what I loved to do and that was all that mattered. The girls I danced with became my family, in fact, at times we spent more time together than with our own families, so we really formed a special bond that even holds today. I have to say, I think my studio was pretty unique in some ways. Instead of putting glass in each other’s pointe shoes, attempting to steal each other’s parts or any other ballet studio horror stories you may have heard, we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cheered one another on. It really felt like we were part of a team. Of course we all had our moments, we were teenage girls remember, but even still, it was one of the best times of my life.
After I graduated high school I moved to NYC to pursue a BFA in dance from Fordham University/ Alvin Ailey. It was during college where my relationship with dance began to change. Dance classes were no longer fun, they became an obligation. We weren’t encouraged to focus on our strengths and our individuality, instead it felt like we were striped of who we were and treated as identical machines that needed strict and regimented tuning. I started to dread going to class and never felt worse about myself. I’m not saying that this program wasn’t absolutely wonderful for some people, but for me it was awful. The summer before my junior year I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. There were other things I wanted to try, other classes I wanted to take, places I wanted to travel. It felt like dance was now holding me back instead of propelling me in the right direction. I switched my major to Spanish Studies, jammed 4 years of university classes into two, studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain and as a result changed the course of my life.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck it out or if I had gone to a different dance program but then I remind myself that there’s no point in wondering and if I hadn’t made that decision I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Ballet taught me about discipline, hard work, self-expression, friendship and more importantly how to recognize beauty in the world. These are elements that will always be a part of me no matter what industry I choose. It’s been difficult to find a career choice that incites the kind of passion I used to feel from dance but I think that will just take time.
Before the holidays I went to see Swan Lake with some friends here in Amsterdam. I couldn’t help but move my feet as the swans, dressed in white tutus, glided across the stage arms effortlessly imitating wings. My eyes filled with tears. I could still remember the steps, the music and the way the feathers felt on my skin. It had been so long, but I remembered why I loved ballet.
Sometimes all you need in life is a beautiful love struck swan twirling around the stage. 🙂