One afternoon my father and I watched a television news segment on The National Ballet of China. On the screen were a large group of beautiful ballet dancers dressed in white tutus, toe shoes and had silver delicate crowns on their heads. When it ended he turned to me and asked would you like to do that? I nodded and replied yes. I was just four years old.
Soon after I was enrolled in a beginning ballet class that was held in the home of Ms. Marilyn Bostic. Ms. Marilyn is a former leading soloist with the University of Texas Ballet, and taught dancers of all ages. My mom purchased a black leotard, white tights and light pink ballet slippers, and instantly my dancing career began. I was in a class with other children learning the basic ballet positions and posture. She also taught us ballet terms in french that slowly grew over time.
- À terre – Touching the floor
- Arabesque – A posture in which the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended horizontally backward
- Bourrée – Quick, even movements, often en pointe, giving the appearance of gliding
- Plié – A smooth and continuous bending of the knees outward with the upper body held upright
It was an exciting new world for me that I soon discovered I loved very much. Everything about it was appealing to me. I loved the beautiful music, simplicity of the clothing, the neatly, firm and polished bun for a hairstyle, and the sweet but flexible ballet slippers that I wore for many hours. Learning the various ballet techniques was challenging and something about it just made me happy.
When the beginners class ended I was hungry for more and was signed up for another class. My mom would consistently pick me up late and by then the next class would start. At first I would sit and watch but Ms. Marilyn would invite me to join in. Eventually my mom paid for two classes and I would take one right after the other. She would also work with me outside of class and challenge me in different areas. I would still be picked up late from the second class so I began to hang out with Ms. Marilyn’s daughter. We were about the same age and had similar interests. Sometimes we would spend time in her room. I was impressed when I saw that she had a signed picture of Mr. Rogers (of Mr. Rogers neighborhood) on her dresser.
I felt peace when I was in that home and it was more than just the dancing. I honestly never wanted to leave.
When I was home all I thought about was ballet so my teacher would write out ballet routines so I could practice. I bought vinyl records of classical music, pushed the furniture out of the way and would dance for hours. It was my escape and I believe in a way helped rescue me.
A few years went by and my love for ballet never wavered. By this time I was taking three classes a week. It had reached a point where my teacher would speak to us entirely in french and we would dance according to her instructions. There was such elegance and grace required in each movement that completely captivated me. It didn’t matter if I was happy or sad because it could be expressed through my performance. Dancing was like a drug to me and I was hooked. Ms. Marilyn held dance recitals at the end of every year, and it was always a major production. Beautiful costumes, music and hours and hours of practice were always components to the show.
I poured my heart out into every bit of ballet. I could express myself without judgment or repercussions. It was something that was only mine. The movements in ballet are absolutely beautiful and dancing made me feel beautiful in return. It helped me to forget my reality – and abuse could not touch my dancing world.
Ms. Marilyn’s classes quickly outgrew her home and then she opened a studio named Marilyn Bostic Ballet Centre. It is still operating today and she continues to produce wonderful productions that are written about online and in different media articles. By the age of nine Ms. Marilyn allowed me to participate in adult classes too. I did my best to keep up with the other dancers and would practice their routines at home all throughout the week. One day after class Ms. Marilyn spoke to my mother. She said that I was ready for pointe shoes, and I was absolutely thrilled.
Pointe shoes are specially-made shoes worn by ballerinas to allow them to dance on the tips of their toes. Pointe shoes look dainty, but they really aren’t. The tip of the shoe is a rigid box made of densely packed layers of fabric, cardboard and/or paper hardened by glue. In my mind I was on my way to become a true ballerina. My dreams consisted of dancing in a ballet academy in New York. It felt like a long shot and so far away, but Ms. Marilyn made me believe I could do it. My heart was broken when my mom said no to the pointe shoes.
Ms. Marilyn signed me up for open auditions for the Nutcracker at ASU Gammage for several years. Parts were given by height – so each year I could only audition for parts based on my size. Every year I auditioned in a room with hundreds of others, different ages and different sizes. It felt like we were herds of cattle in a room learning routines on the spot – and then we had to perform in groups in front of the ballet company. It was so nerve racking. Little by little the participants would be thinned out each round. I was consistently moved to the front and watched closely as I auditioned. Every year I made it to the final round but never made the final cut. Inevitably my nerves took control and I would either mess up or forget a piece of the routine. Then life happened and I outgrew every part and could no longer audition. I was so close to reaching my goal but never made it happen – it was very disappointing. This didn’t stop me and I continued to dance.
By the time I entered middle school my home life became more complicated. The relationship between my parents was very tense which meant it trickled down to me. My responsibilities at home increased too, and I was now required to take a more active role with my siblings. Ms. Marilyn began to require much more of me. It wasn’t in a negative way as I knew she only desired to make me a better dancer. It was difficult to juggle it all. I’m not sure what changed but ballet didn’t quite offer the same escape as it once had for me. At the end of my eighth grade year I stopped dancing altogether. In my mind I thought I would always go back but I never did.
I’ve always lamented about it because I wasn’t ready for it to be over.
I learned so much about myself through ballet. The discipline and art of it all. It was the first time in my life that I felt good at something. It was the first time I felt beautiful. It was the first time I knew what it felt like to be free.
It’s funny because for many years I forgot about my life as a ballerina. It was after the birth of my children that I began to recall my dancing days. For fun I tried to remember the positions of the arms and feet and other movements that I learned another lifetime ago. It all came flooding back to me and I realized I STILL LOVE IT.
I’m much older now and my body is no longer made for a leotard, but I want to find a way to dance again. Maybe just one more class or one more time. I think I could appreciate it much more now as I’ve been through so much in my life. Looking back it represented something very pure, untainted and whole. To relive the love and passion of ballet I felt as a child many years ago would be a gift.
And another chance to feel beautiful and free.
(Pictured: Ms. Marilyn & I preparing for the annual ballet production)