For 11 years growing up, I danced ballet. When I say I danced ballet, I danced ballet. Between the ages of 3 and 14, I was trained pre-professionally in a well respected school, attending classes up to five days a week for a few hours a day (when I was an advanced dancer and reached pointe shoes). I was on the precipice of taking my dancing to the ‘final level’ at my ballet school if I were to have auditioned to join the ‘company.’ I loved ballet and I still love ballet, but it’s a new kind of love. For a variety of reasons, that were ultimately for the best, I stopped dancing when I was 14. It was an emotional crossroads to be at, since so much of my life had been spent dancing. I danced seasonally in The Nutcracker, which was eight productions over the span of four days for five straight years each Christmas. My last role (and favorite role) was being one of the ‘party girls,’ dancing with a doll underneath the Christmas tree. I was constantly in rehearsals for it every Fall, and much of my life became very routine, but it was a routine that I lived for and I was lucky to have support for. My mother waited endless hours for me to finish ballet class. When I stopped, it was an awakening of sorts to shift gears and find new interests and passions that were outside of my studies in school. Since I had spent so much of my life dancing, I had excitement back then to find new passions. Ultimately, it was a good time for me to stop dancing at the pace I was dancing. The ways in which ballet shaped me by ingraining qualities of dedication, discipline, athleticism and also establishing a strong work ethic and openness to feedback and growth, have all been catalysts for the good in my life.
I recently started dancing again for myself (very lightly) and have found so much joy in this. I can’t pinpoint the exact thing that prompted me to, but I was reflecting to myself how dance was always a great form of exercise for me and also a way to destress as I focused my mind on improving positions and taking my technique to new levels. I still have so much of the basic framework of my ballet technique to this day and I am now an adult. I am proud that I have finally reached a point in my life where I can have a balanced relationship with ballet, where I am not pressuring myself to always go further and further in my technique, but to enjoy the movements and also gain back a lot of my ballet strength, flexibility and balance in the process. I often think about how George Balanchine’s method shaped me. Balanchine was one of the great ballet masters… I think that much of my experience pushing myself to improve in my dancing was shaped by the Balanchine method, which I highly recommend if you are interested in studying the various styles and methods. American ballet has been greatly shaped by him. His method is utilized at the New York City Ballet (opened 1948) and School of American Ballet (opened 1934), schools that he founded. He also influenced the San Francisco Ballet, which was the first ballet school in the country (opened in 1933).
The Balanchine style is characterized by the following qualities:
- extreme speed and very deep plié
- emphasis on line, with use of unconventional, asymmetrical, abstract arm and hand placement
- pirouettes en dehors taken from a lunge in fourth position rather than the conventional plié in fourth
- distinctive arabesque line with the hip open to the audience and the side arm pressed back
- athletic dance quality
Ballet dancers, on an existential level, all ‘serve a higher purpose.’ There is nothing more gratifying in this life than to find a deeper meaning than the shallow and egoistic traps that society sets forth for so many. I have found that was ultimately what kept driving me forward as a dancer in my adolescence, whether I was consciously aware of it or not. I certainly am now. I can take this awareness and enjoy dancing in its recreational form (without the hopes and dreams of dancers who, often like Olympians, live for a few short moments on stage which can be shattered by a slight shift in the body that did not allow the movement to reach aesthetic perfection or an injury that happened in the blink of an eye). Support the arts by attending a ballet if you can, the amount of passion and love that people share in ballet goes deep.