I wasn’t one of those little peanuts who committed to being a bun head at age three. I took “Dolly Dinkle” classes sporadically, doing the ballet-jazz-tap-tumbling combo classes, doing a year of gymnastics here, a year of soccer there, some karate, softball, art classes…am I forgetting anything? The point was, I spent most of my younger years testing out everything there was.
At age 10, I auditioned for the local community theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” I recall seeing the ad for the audition in the newspaper, whipping up a rendition of “Zippity Doo Dah” out of my piano book, and ending up cast as the littlest Cratchit child. I had one line: “Please Mr. Dickens.” My parents really knew nothing about the arts.
I really hit it off with musical theater. I absolutely adored it (and still do). One of the women who worked at the community theater put us in touch with a local talent agency (at the time we lived right outside of NYC, so this wasn’t totally random), and I went to audition for them. They loved my vocal and acting skills, but basically thought I sucked at dance (which was very justified). So I ended up taking a few private ballet lessons and finding a REAL ballet school.
My elementary school years were not really the usual experience. A couple times a week, I would be pulled out of school and my mom and I would take the train into NYC, catch a cab, and walk up many, many steps of stairs. I auditioned for all sorts of things: movies, commercials, musicals. I almost booked an AIG commercial once and remember crying because it meant I would be in Florida on Halloween!
The closest I ever came to booking a Broadway show was my “Gypsy” audition. I was auditioning for the part of Baby June and had to sing “Let Me Entertain You” and do a cartwheel into a split. You can imagine, that probably wasn’t very good. Regardless, they liked my voice and let me continue on to callbacks. I remember the elevator opening and seeing tons of stage moms and their gumby daughters sprawled out on the floor, legs behind their heads, heads turned almost backwards like contortionists. Needless to say, my mom and I found a nice corner to read in while we waited. Of course, the singing part of the callback went great. The dancing part…not so much. First of all, we had to tap. I had maybe tapped twice in my life. I also remember all the girls going down into their giant straddle splits and the dance teacher walking around, scrutinizing me, and saying “hmm…need to work on that.”
So dance wasn’t always my strong point.
Until I started taking more and more ballet classes at the teeny tiny ballet school in Madison, New Jersey, called Studio Allegro. I remember the teacher evaluating me, saying “go to first arch,” and being like, “huh???”
But I grew to love it. One day, the teacher was asking us what our goals were while we were stretching. She went around the room and asked each girl, hearing the response, “to be Marie in the Nutcracker.” I’m pretty sure I responded, “to DANCE in the Nutcracker.” (Little did I know, I would be in MANY Nutcrackers after that.) From then on, all I wanted to do was dance.
My family moved to Pittsburgh when I was in sixth grade, and I was still committed to finding a ballet school and continuing musical theater on the side. I started at the musical theater school right nearby my house, but when I finished the ballet class, they suggested that I take their highest level high school ballet class instead. I was in SIXTH GRADE at the time. So a nice lady at the desk directed us to the ballet school in the town over, the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh.
Compared to my old ballet school in New Jersey, BAP is hardcore. I remember thinking during my first class, which was filled with people all my age and younger, that I needed to move down a level. It took me a long time to realize that I could keep up with the class, and it made me sad for a while that while the whole class did their pointe barre at the end, I had to work in my flat shoes.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that being surrounded by people who are better than you pushes you harder.
So I really started ballet at age eleven. Eight years behind everyone else, it took me a while to catch up. I felt up until my ninth grade year, I was still pushing to catch up with the girls my age. When it comes down to it, ballet is really unnatural. Turnout, pointed feet, and posture were not things that necessarily came naturally, and I didn’t have the benefits of adapting to it since age three.
Thanks to wonderful instructors, a competitive spirit, and of course, a love for ballet, I’ve caught up. I’m finally where I need to be and yet, I have to always be aware that if I do not continue to push myself harder, I will not grow.
People always ask, “Is it too late for me to start ballet?”, and there’s really a few questions you should ask yourself.
1. How old am I? What are my intentions? Obviously, if you start ballet at age 17 (and unless you are an incredible prodigy child), it will be near impossible to be ready to join a company in time because you will still be playing the “catch up” game. If you are looking to dance for fun, though, or to be in musicals, GO FOR IT! There’s nothing to lose!
2. Am I willing to work harder than ever before? Ballet it draining, mentally and physically, and I still feel that. If you want to improve, you have to push yourself in each class. It’s easy to say “Oh, I’m tired. I should just take it easy and be comfortable today.” What you must do, however, is do every step better than the day before. Or at least try.
“What are you waiting for? What are you saving for? Now is all there is.”- George Balanchine
3. Do I have the resources I need to catch up? Improving in ballet requires great teachers, supportive friends and family, energy, commitment, time, money, and a passion for dance. If you’ve got those things, go for it. It can be really hard without them.
However I make dance a part of my life in the future, it has taught me to work as hard as I can to achieve a goal that makes me happy. It can be hard, and you may feel like quitting sometimes, but what makes a true ballerina isn’t a great body or ability… it’s perseverance.