20. The Need to Prove Yourself

When I went back to Albuquerque two weeks ago, I took class at my home studio of Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico (BRT) every day that I could. It was automatically my priority. I felt so at home and so comfortable there even though it had been more than a month since I’d taken ballet class and was incredibly out of shape. Nonetheless, I went to ballet class every day and within three or four days felt back in shape (with the exception that I wasn’t turning as consistently or as much as I’m used to.)

I finally returned back home to D.C. last night and took class today at the Washington Ballet’s adult program, where I’ve been taking class for the past year since I moved to D.C. I didn’t feel the same kind of soul or fire or motivation to take class here as I did back in Albuquerque a mere week ago. And I think I figured out why.

Back in Albuquerque, at BRT, everyone knows me. I grew up there. I spent almost 20 years of my life there. When I moved to D.C., the only person who had been at BRT longer than me was the director herself. I haven’t felt like I’ve had to prove myself in years upon years at BRT. I’ve proved who I am as a dancer over and over again over the years and I don’t have a need to show that I’m better than anyone there. For me, dancing at BRT just allows me to truly dance and be free.

In D.C., no one knows me. I’m one of dozens, if not hundreds, of dancers who move to D.C. for school or work or some other reason and still take class to try to stay in shape and because we love it. The problem, I’ve realized, with my mentality here, is that I feel that I’m constantly trying to prove myself in every class. It’s rare for me to take a ballet class without me trying to prove my worth as a dancer to the teacher or to my fellow students or to myself. Here, it’s been very difficult to just let go and dance.

There are many incredible dancers that I am lucky enough to take class with. For instance, just today there was a girl I’ve only seen around once or twice before. She just moved here from Arizona. And she was absolutely lovely. It’s inspiring to be around so many amazing dancers every day, but it’s also difficult because I’m constantly comparing myself to them. It’s been almost ten years since I have systematically compared myself to other dancers; I’ve compared myself to myself since I was a young teenager. But now, I think it’s different for me because I do feel this pressure to show that I’m good enough to dance in a company. That I am good enough to dance at Washington Ballet if I got the chance and gave it such commitment.

The most difficult part is that I have chosen law school and a legal career instead of a career in ballet. So right now, all of my attempts to prove myself are my attempts to live out that “what if” I had really put my entire heart and soul into trying to dance in a full-time company. They are my attempts to prove to myself that I am as good as those around me and that the past many years of my life – the blood and sweat and tears – haven’t all been for naught.

It took me going back to Albuquerque and dancing at BRT every day for a week to realize what it is that I’m missing here in D.C. And what I’m missing is the absolute freedom and joy in just dancing for myself and myself alone. Of course I still love taking class while I’m here, but the past several months I’ve felt such trepidation at even just showing up at the studio to take class. Tonight I finally realized it’s because I’m growing anxious about having to prove myself day after day.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be able to compare my own dancing with my own dancing and with no one else’s. That’s how you improve. That’s how you excel. That is the way to really, truly enjoy the work you put into something that you love. And that’s what I’m going to try to get back to from here on out.

13. Creations

[Pardon this short interjection into the middle of the London travel logs.]

I’ve been realizing over the past couple of months that my core nature is that of a creator. I love creating things. I live for being able to create and participating in the creation of things. Whether that thing is a ballet, a piece of writing, or the full development of an idea doesn’t matter. What I love is being able to create and participate in the creation process. I love being able to build up to something greater than the sum of its parts.

Having realized this, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future and what I see myself doing in the future. I’m not going to tell you what I’ve decided since I haven’t figured anything out. Pretty much the only thing I have figured out is that regardless of whatever I’m doing, I’m going to have to figure out some way of incorporating creativity and the creating of something in my daily life. Creating is what fills my soul with joy and what satisfies me in a way that nothing else can.

I have at least two or three actual projects I am currently working on. Don’t hold your breath; I have no idea how long it will take me to finish these projects. But I have hopes. And I’m going to keep trying. I have so much to learn and do and make and figure out. But that’s exactly where the fun begins.

2. Of Tutus and Chances

This past weekend marks the first time I have gotten to wear a tutu in over a year. It was also my third rehearsal at Baltimore Ballet for Swan Lake Act II, which we are performing in two weeks. For me, the highlight of the weekend was definitely getting to dance in a tutu though. It’s

I’ve always felt most comfortable and in my element in a ballet studio or theatre. Tutus are my version of every girl’s dream wedding dresses. If I can be a princess or sugarplum fairy or swan in a tutu, I would choose that over anything else any day. So, naturally, when I got to wear a tutu this past weekend, was thrilled. If you think about it, a tutu is a strange thing. But we associate it so much with this concept of beauty and regality that encompasses every aspect of classical ballet that a tutu becomes a symbol of the very thing we dancers work so hard for so many years to attain.

I’ve worked hard and I’ve been lucky enough to have that hard work pay off in the multitude of opportunities I have received over the years. Ballet is no exception. Since 2010, I’ve had the privilege of getting to dance the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker four different times in various forms. It has become a defining role for me. There’s a regality of character and a gracious beauty woven into the character. Of course, Sugarplum requires a tutu. The other defining role I’ve gotten the chance to dance that required a tutu was Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I cannot tell you the absolute magic of getting to be on stage as a princess falling in love with her prince while every eye in the audience is on you. It’s a breathtaking moment that is simply unexplainable.

Saying goodbye to that world and that life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I made my peace with it last December when I performed as Sugarplum for the last time. Well, I thought I made my peace with it but now I’m certain that that isn’t quite accurate.

How do you make yourself come to terms with the results of your life decisions? I made the best possible choice I could have made in coming to Georgetown Law. I don’t regret that decision one bit. I only regret that I can’t dance here the same way I could dance before. I regret not having tried harder to audition for companies. I thought I was okay with that, but over and over again I keep finding out that I’m not quite okay. Dancing is a piece of my soul and it feels like that little piece is missing. So how do I reconcile myself with the fact that I’m missing one of the parts that has been so intrinsic in my life for so long? Just teaching and taking the occasional ballet class doesn’t do it. I guess this is where Baltimore Ballet comes in.

I sent them my resume a few weeks back. Not four days later I got a call from them. They said they had a situation where one of their dancers had just dropped out and was not able to perform, and was there any possibility that I could come in on Sundays and fill in for her? I was delighted and instantly said yes; Sundays the one day I have off every week and I am more than happy to spend that one free day rehearsing for a ballet. Since then, every Sunday I’ve been driving up to Baltimore and rehearsing the second act of Swan Lake.

It worked out perfectly. So while I desperately miss dancing in an actual company, I’m slowly figuring out how to incorporate ballet into my life in more creative ways. Isn’t that one of the secrets to life though? Figuring out how to incorporate the things you love in a way that makes your life fuller and more rich in every possible way?

So how do we do that? How do we incorporate the things we love into our lives and fit everything in? I don’t have all the answers and I won’t even pretend to have it all figured out. But thus far what has worked for me, and what I’m hoping will bring about even more results in the near future, is to think creatively and think outside the box. How else would I have been able to find Baltimore Ballet? How else will we be able to attain the lives we want to be living?