There’s that moment you realize you’re in love. Do you remember what it was like? How did ballet begin for you?

Here’s my story…

From the time I was a toddler, I wanted two things. One was pierced ears; the other was ballet lessons. I don’t recall seeing anything about ballet as a 2 year-old (in Tallahassee no less!), but somehow a singular longing for ballet took root in me.

So I began lobbying (begging)…

The ear piercing was performed with ice cube, needle, and thread on my third birthday. I had been warned it might hurt. But whether by reckless determination or the inability to understand pain in the abstract, I could not be dissuaded.

The first puncture produced blood and a few tears. I remember my mother’s pained look, asking me if I wanted to stop. “No!” I answered as emphatically as any toddler. I wanted those little gold studs!

The ear piercing seemed a fitting rite of passage… it was my first taste of turning desire into reality with persistence and yes, a little bit of suffering. The experience made me ever-more-determined to get those ballet lessons!

Despite the lack of instruction, my affinity for ballet continued to blossom. The living room became my studio, with a John Denver album for music. Some nights my brother and I would collaborate–me in my prettiest nightgown dancing on the toy box with him holding the flashlight and manning the record player.

A gift set of classical music 45’s with my very own turntable transformed play time. I spent hours being moved by all the feelings I could hear in the music. The feelings did not have words, just like the music, but I could feel them–very intensely–in my body.

Ballet (or at least the idea of it) became a universe. I danced in my room with irrepressible enthusiasm and precocious solemnity, entirely ignorant but completely full with energy seeking to express itself through movement as love, beauty, delight, and longing. I felt complete with dancing.

My fate was sealed at the age of four when I saw my first ballet. Like so many little girls before and since, I was utterly enchanted by The Nutcracker. Sitting there in the Fresno Civic Auditorium, I knew I must dance. Sure–the pretty costumes, falling snow, and toe dancing were part of the allure, but most of all I wanted to dance ballet because the music and movement made me feel so much! When I danced, I felt most alive.

Kindergarten was my lucky year. Ms. Mulhern recommended extracurricular activity to keep me engaged and encouraged my mom to grant my wish for ballet lessons. AT LAST! I had already spent over half my life trying to get them! And then…

Tap dance?!?! I had to take tap lessons before I could do ballet classes??? I worked diligently through my impatience and frustration in those “tap years”, savoring every second of the 20 minutes of ballet instruction each week. Three years later my heart’s desire finally arrived–ballet lessons, unobstructed.

And so began my life’s journey into the sometimes severe, often sublime world of ballet. I began working the long arc of my dream to become a professional ballerina and never looked back. By the time most teenagers were going to prom and graduating from high school, I had my first job in the corps de ballet. Working till my muscles ached and my toes were raw (and for so little money!), I considered myself to be one of the luckiest people on earth. To truly love what you do is a gift beyond measure.

All these years later, I don’t wear earrings. But ballet persists in my body, my psyche, and especially in my heart which still swells with feelings that want to burst into movement! My life in ballet has been rich with dedication, drive, disappointment, and delight but never regret. After over four decades at the barre, I love ballet more than ever and feel so grateful to get to do what I love.

What brought you to ballet?

Please share! I’m looking forward to hearing about your ballet beginnings!

HAPPY DANCING!
-Tiekka

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