Two years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of my county’s The Nutcracker. For years, I had dreamed of performing in the ballet, particularly as one of the soloists on pointe. (For those who have no idea what “pointe” is, that’s just the general term used to describe destroying your feet while dancing on the very tips of your toes. For some odd reason, I love it.) I remember when my mom first signed me up for dance classes, I had to have been four or five, I wanted to be a ballerina like the older girls I saw dancing en pointe in the classroom beside mine.
Anyway, skip to eleven years later, I finally got my first pair of pointe shoes. I wasn’t all that good at it, but I practiced for hours on hours every day. My parents didn’t pay for lessons, so I got a job at the dance studio to pay specifically for the hobby (which is seriously so expensive. People think football is costly? Try buying a pair of $90 shoes every three weeks, with an additional $50 a week lessons. And that’s not including replacing all the ripped leos, tights, ribbons, elastics, etc. Blah.)
I managed to get decent at dance, and decided to go ahead and audition for The Nutcracker. I didn’t expect to earn much of a role from the audition, maybe a Snowflake or Party Guest. However, not only did I get a role as a Snowflake, but also the role as the Dew Drop Fairy– a solo position. I danced alongside a few younger girls, but with my own solo conincided. Aside from the Sugarplum Fairy and Clara, I was the only one to dance alone.
I was so happy when I got the email that I started crying, which is something I don’t often do. I was beyond thrilled that I even got into the show, let alone an important role!
My happiness and joy at being chosen for the roles was beyond description. I walked into 9pm rehearsals every night with as much of a positive attitude as I could manage. Finally, something good had come out of sticking to my goals.
Unfortunately, my happiness didn’t last all that long. I knew only a few other ballerinas at my studio, but we were never super competitive with each other because we were all on the same level, same classes. The Nutcracker, however, was a completely different story. We were in a big competition, trying to show off as much as we could. We wanted to be the best. I loved working for my roles, but I was slowly getting glimpses of how ugly competition could be. Girls, whether they mean to or not, are not the nicest in the ballet world. Whenever someone made a mistake, such as turning the wrong way or tripping, little whispers and giggles would erupt. I was in the front lines during the Snowflake dance, with nine other girls behind me, and during our first on-stage rehearsal, I lead the line in a wrong direction which immediately stopped the dance. I have no idea if it was the nerves of being on the stage or just simply forgetting, but I was embarrassed. More than embarrassed, I was angry. Why… how could I have forgotten that small move?
Up until then, I always believed self criticism was the best, and worst, punishment. However, as I readjusted the ballet line for another attempt at the dance, my mind almost collapsed with the whispered words, “She has no idea what she’s doing. What is she doing here?”
The girl behind me, clearly annoyed with my lack of effort, was livid, and with good reason. What was I doing there? She was right: I had no idea what I was doing. I was in way over my head. I brushed off her words as best as I could and finished the rehearsal without another failure. I didn’t want them to affect my performance, however poor it already was.
I thought I was doing better– at least I was leading the right way– but after my rehearsal as the Dew Drop Fairy, I grew angry with myself all over again.
“What happened to the girl who played the Dew Drop Fairy last year? She was perfect.”
“I think she went off to SAB. She wanted to train at an actual academy.”
“Yeah, she was the perfect Dew Drop.”
I doubt the words were there to criticize my own abilities, but it still hurt nevertheless. The conversation between two other girls happened right after my practice solo, and I decided then that I would never live up to the expectations of a perfect ballerina.
After all this went down, I drove the thirty minutes home disappointed. I wanted to be happy again, proud of myself, but doubts clouded my head. I already knew I wasn’t a particularly beautiful dancer, but to have been pushed into a corner with confirmation hurt nonetheless. Ballet was everything to me! My thoughts flashed back to the memories of my first lesson, looking at the older girls through a stained window as they danced. I thought they were beautiful.
When The Nutcracker opening night came along, I was worried. What if I screwed up again? What if I lead my group the wrong way and caused a collision? What if…
Whether it was fate playing a trick on me or karma, something bad did happen, and right during my solo. Finishing an Attitude turn, my pointe shoe’s elastic suddenly broke, throwing the shoe across the stage in a very loud, very noticeable manner. I still cringe every time I think about the performance. I continued dancing, one foot attached to a shoe and the other turning on bare toes, and when I finished, I hurried offstage without a word to anyone. I ran to the unoccupied backstage restroom and locked myself in a stall. My breathing was rigid and my heart was beating up my throat. The audience’s small chuckle from the incident replayed in my head over and over. What a fool.
I only emerged from my dungeon when someone ordered for curtain call. Still morbidly embarrassed, I avoided everyone I could and pretended that nothing was wrong. Thankfully, I had a few good friends, one of which who played the Nutcracker. I stuck next to him before and after the curtain call, happy that I wouldn’t have to face anyone else.
When my family finally came up to congratulate me with a bitter lie of “Well done!” I was more than ready to leave the stage for good. However, I was stopped by a mother and her young daughter. The daughter, who I later learned was only three, hid behind her mother as the mother explained that she wanted to take a picture. The little girl stepped out from behind her leg shyly, smiling at me. The mother looked down at her.
“Look, [daughter’s name], it’s the professional ballerina!”
I almost burst into tears right there. The girl, who had seen me fail but had still asked her mom to take a picture with me, slowly walked up and took my hand. I lead her to the front of the stage while the mom snapped our photo. When we were finished, the young daughter told me she wanted to be a ballerina, too.
Okay, so this story wasn’t meant to be an “Oh, poor Savannah” pity-party, or a tale to point the “People are so mean!” finger. That little girl, who saw past what I thought was the impossible to look past, continues to be my main inspiration for life. Happiness is often overlooked by today’s society: just a simple word of encouragement can motivate people to keep going. I still love dance, and probably will for the rest of my life (or at least until all of my toes break). I want to give that motivation to other people, and maybe one day be someone else’s inspiration.