Sticking with Ballet:

Melanie’s Story

Ballet is an art-form that is tough on the body and the spirit. It requires dedication, motivation, and undying interest. How do women even get started as serious ballerinas?

Most young girls start because their parents pressure them into it. Girls like the tutus and the buns. They love running around and hanging off of the bar with their friends. It’s a fun way to spend afternoons and they get to show off to their parents at recitals.

As years go by, the sport becomes more grueling. Ballerinas start learning to dance on point. The combinations become more difficult and severe competition is more common. Unrealistic ideals and images are forced onto these girls, and it’s brutal. For ballet dancers, the incident of eating disorders is one in five. As if this weren’t enough to dissuade girls, there is also a huge chance they’ll get hurt. The injury rate for ballet dancers over an eight-month period is 61 percent.

Girls quit. But some stay. Some push through because they love ballet enough to pursue it.

I met with Melanie McNett, one of the rare dancers who stayed with ballet through all of the mean teachers, endless lessons, and blisters. I asked about the beginning of her ballet career and what drove her to dance.

__________________________________________________________________L: When did you decide to start ballet and why?

M: I took my first ballet class when I was three years old. I wanted to take ballet because of the pretty costumes. If we’re being honest, I wanted to dance around in a frilly tutu and show off. But the studio ended up teaching intensive ballet and they raised ballerinas. It wasn’t just a place to entertain little kids.

L: How did you choose a competitive studio?

M: I knew I wanted to be a ballerina, so my parents asked around and one of our family friends danced as Alwin’s School of the Dance as a child. It was very far away, but I liked the studio and it had a good reputation so I stayed there.

L: Do you remember when ballet became difficult?

M: It was never easy but some parts were harder than others. I remember being about 8 and my teacher telling us to suck in our stomachs and not to arch our backs while we danced. And for some reason, this was a hard concept for me to grasp. It was building and creating good technique and it was difficult for me.

L: Did you notice a lot of your peers quitting when it got difficult?

M: I didn’t really have friends in ballet until I was like 9. So I didn’t really notice people quitting. But people definitely left the studio. Only three girls from my original class, including me, made it to our senior year of high school.

L: Was that hard? To lose friends?

M: I wouldn’t say it was hard. The girls who stuck around became my family. They were the only people in my life who understood exactly what I experienced on a daily basis.

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That daily basis, all of the unseen practice, made sense at the moment of performance. The performance, McNett says, was enough. Almost …


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