PRINCIPAL DANCER WITH THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET
I began to dance simply because I was in the right place at the right time. My cousin was taking ballet lessons, so my aunt decided to open a dance store. One day, a teacher came into the store and saw my feet, so she offered to give me lessons. What started out as a few lessons turned into a month, which then turned into years. Even though ballet wasn’t always easy for me, I always knew it was something I couldn’t give up.
When I was 13, I auditioned for the summer course at the School of American Ballet. There was a beautiful dancer from my studio who I really admired; she had studied there, so naturally I wanted to follow in her footsteps. But when the letter came, I was rejected. Receiving that letter made me realize that going to SAB was something I really wanted to do. I became laser focused and made it my target for the next year.
Around this time, I remember being a towns person in Carolina Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet and seeing one of the principal dancers, Lillian Vigo, crying on stage. As I watched her passionate performance, it dawned on me that ballet would always be a part of my life. No matter what direction my life went, I would always find a way to be connected to ballet. This was when I truly fell in love with ballet. The next year, when I auditioned for SAB again, I was offered a scholarship.
Now that I am a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, I’m able to look back on my training and think how I would have done things differently. I think there is a double standard of being “polite” in the studio. On one hand, it’s important to be respectful of the teacher, not talk in class and pay attention. But on the other hand, I think these things are often mistaken for standing in the back of the studio and not doing everything full out, every time. As young students, we are so conscious of not embarrassing ourselves by making mistakes. I used to dance like this. But then I decided it was silly to be so self-conscious about doing something I love so much. When I finally began to let go is about the time my dancing really improved. I wish I had been able to get rid of this self-consciousness earlier. If you mess up, walk it off and try again! Now, I never let myself be afraid to go for it. If I could look back, I would tell myself to not hide and try to look small. I always try to dance big and let my passion shine through, which hopefully comes out when I’m on stage.
In my career, I don’t want to be typecast in one sort of role. I want to be able to do the classics, like Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and things like Afternoon of a Faun. I’m hungry to dance everything! At the beginning of each season, I try not to get too excited about what ballets are on the schedule. That way if something doesn’t go the way I want it to, the let down isn’t as big. But now I know that as long as I allow myself to dance with humility and freedom, it won’t matter what the role is or the style, I will have a voice in anything I do.
Photos by Karolina Kuras and Nisian Hughes