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My mother could not understand what was happening to me one summer afternoon as she passed through the living room to discover her seven year old daughter sitting on the couch with tears streaming down her face, solemnly gazing at the television. Suddenly noticing that I seemed very upset, she quickly came to my side to console me and to discover why I was randomly crying all alone in the living room, instead of outside pretending I was a fairy in the garden like I normally would have been doing. “Sofia! What’s wrong!” She asked, very concerned, setting down her laundry basket and cleaning supplies. Through tears I tried to explain to her how moved I was, watching this documentary that happened to be playing on television that talked about the lives of ballet dancers, and all of the sacrifices that had to be made for them to pursue their craft. I felt so touched to be witnessing such a level of discipline taking the form of sheer beauty, when transfused with breathtaking music and time-stopping dance sequences. My mother was shocked and slightly haunted that her normally happy, carefree daughter was literally brought to tears watching a program about ballet. Nevertheless, this moment influenced her to pick up the phone several days later to sign me up for ballet classes in the fall, thus beginning the eleven year odyssey which has henceforth been my life.
My first ballet class was a disaster. I was thrown into a class of eight-year-old girls who knew the steps, the terminology, and the standard rules of ballet—“pointe your toes, pull up your tummy.” My teacher kept commanding me to “put my popo down,” but I had no idea what a “popo” was, so I kept tilting my pelvis in the completely opposite direction, feeling three of my vertebrae crunching together for the whole barre.
However, regardless of my disastrous first experience, I had no second thoughts on returning the following week. There were so many elements of the class that inspired me: the music, the class-structure, the quality of movement. The studios were spacious with a lot of natural light, and the names of the steps sounded foreign and intriguing. My imagination seemed to run for the hills the moment I stepped into the studio, it was a feeling that I that I instantly knew I wanted my life’s work to encapsulate. I decided to forget about the fact that I felt like the ugly duckling of the class and to approach the process step by step. To my surprise I began to succeed at my studio, performing lead roles and receiving high honors in Royal Academy of Dance vocational examinations. I became extremely focused and dedicated, to a point where it became obsessive—I would spend five hours at the studio every day after school. I went into a ballet vacuum; I was so afraid that if I did not allow ballet to suck the life out of myself, I could never succeed. One day I realised that I was growing out of my studio, that there was only so much I could do for myself at my studio in New Jersey, and there was only so much they could offer me. I needed a different experience to continue to grow. So one September morning I found myself auditioning for the School of American Ballet, followed by a call later that evening that I had earned a spot in the year-round program.
The School of American Ballet has completely opened up my world...in the four years that I have been here experiencing New York City, I have witnessed my world changing before me like exploding colors of a kaleidoscope. I have met all sorts of incredible, interesting people...being in the city has exposed me to the importance of networking. I fell in love with the feeling of collaboration after dancing and starring in a friend’s film in the summer (for Tisch film), and all over again while working on my first choreographic work in the fall (for SAB student choreographic workshop). I am beginning to feel like a more open, care-free person by branching out and by allowing myself to have these exciting new experiences with brilliant individuals.
Recently I began to realize that perhaps I do not have to exist solely within a “ballet vacuum” to be successful as a dancer after all. My approach to art and to my craft has evolved significantly during my time in New York City...I can now see that ballet as an art can exist for so much more than the small societies of elitists that large dance companies often gear themselves to adhere towards. The artists themselves are in control of their own destinies—in terms of what they choose to do with their craft, and with whom they choose to share it with. In September of 2016, I acted on this notion by starting my own beginner ballet class at a community arts center in New Jersey, and I was able to save up enough money to begin renting an apartment for myself for the fall of this year so that I no longer had to be commuting from New Jersey every morning, giving me more opportunities to explore the wonders of NYC in my downtime. Now I get to continue living in a city that I have fallen completely head over heels in love with over the past four years, and to build on the connections I have made with so many remarkably inspiring artists.
Last spring I read Margot Fonteyn's autobiography, and this quote resonated with me: “Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.” In the beginning of this story, you met a girl who was crying because she discovered something beautiful, and was afraid that being her whimsical self would not match the discipline required to succeed in this craft. Now I believe I can wipe my tears and say that I have found myself in a place that shall allow me to do so, while remaining the free-spirited soul I have been all along.