As a young girl, I loved the art of ballet. From the lovely top buns to the pink and frilly tutus, I saw ballerinas as the epitome of class and grace. Their long and straight stature wowed me as they stood on their pink satin toes before twirling and leaping so effortlessly.
I found myself inspired by the likes of Judith Jamison who danced as if she was trained by the wind, the graceful Maria Tallchief who embodied a swan, and the lovable Debbie Allen who possesses so much sass and pizzazz that it only makes sense she founded her own school.
While I never pursued the art of dance, it didn’t stop me from borrowing from their etiquettes of walking tall through the hallways of elementary school wearing my neatly shaped bun and clothing in many shades of pink.
Unfortunately, ballet classes were something that my mother was not able to afford, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to dance. I often wished that dance was something that was taught at school other than the woodshop class I attended with the boys.
Thankfully, my husband and I were able to enroll our daughters in dance so that they can receive the discipline, dedication, and love for dance that will hopefully further shape them into great women.
Living in the 21st century, my daughters are also blessed to see the beautiful diversity flourishing in the dance world. We have Misty Copeland, who is the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in American Ballet’s Theatre’s 75-year history. Charlotte Nebres, 11, who set a record as the star of the New York City Ballet’s holiday production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” Lastly, we have Frostine Shake, the plus-size ballerina that proves that size doesn’t matter and talent is everything!
In honor of Ballet Day on February 7, we talked to trained dancers that shared their experience in the world of ballet and how it shaped them into the women they are today.
Dancing Takes A Tough Skin
My love for the discipline and beauty of ballet developed when I was young by firm yet nurturing professional classical ballet teachers. My teachers inspired me to dance and also become a professional dancer in a classical ballet company that was a thrilling and eye-opening experience.
As a professional dancer, fairness is no longer a guide. The industry gets tough and you have to have the skin for it. This skill does not come easily, and there are oftentimes tears, public humiliation, pain, and bloodshed. Hard work, focus, and determination are vital to surviving.
The most valuable lesson I gained from my experience as a dancer is the ability to carry on even in the face of failure and disappointment.
-Susannah Cotrone, co-founder of Cotrone Pilates
Dancing Shaped My Career
I started classical ballet when I was five-year-old. I didn’t always love ballet, it was tough, and for a little kid, the discipline could be challenging. But, I am so glad I stuck with it because I was an extremely shy girl who barely talked. Ballet offered me a nonverbal form of expression that saved me.
During high school, over three consecutive summers, I studied with Joffrey Ballet’s Trainee Program, in New York. In college, I was a dance major, even though I knew I didn’t have the technique to dance professionally.
My ballet training has shaped my life in so many ways. Like so many dancers, I transitioned from classical ballet to classical Pilates and became a certified Romana’s Pilates teacher.
Ballet gives you a physical discipline that’s hard to shake and that discipline bleeds into all parts of your life too– punctuality, organization, multi-tasking, good posture, grace, confidence, and overall body awareness you don’t get from team sports.
My five-year-old daughter started taking ballet this year and I’m back in an adult beginner class, after a 20-year hiatus. Yes, ballet is great at any age.
Molly Niles Renshaw, co-founder of Phoenix Classical Pilates
Dancing Has Enriched My Life
Since I was four-year-old, I have been taking dance lessons. I was enchanted with the ballerinas’ costumes after watching a video of “The Nutcracker,” and it’s been a love story ever since.
As I continued to create amazing chapters in my life, a few of them were dedicated to becoming a professional dancer, who also founded my own company. Growing up, I participated in the dance world which was mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding. It required me to show up and present my best day after day, even when I was tired or didn’t feel like it.
I learned invaluable lessons like persistence, teamwork, tenacity, grit, respect, and an unbreakable work ethic. I discovered that it is possible to be both fierce and beautiful at the same time. I experienced that achieving anything great takes time, and still, improvement is possible. I learned that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as I learn from them. I found my own artistry and style so that I could be a soloist when given the opportunity, but also how to seamlessly blend into a group.
Dancing has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. I highly recommend ballet lessons for girls and women of every age, because dance can inspire your soul.
Lindsey Dinneen, Artistic Director of VidaDance Company
Cheering For Ballet
Ballet was my first love. As a little girl, those pink shoes and tights and sock bun transformed me into a different person — more confident, more courageous. I was a dancer on and off the stage.
I knew there was always work to be done off stage in order to earn two minutes on stage and be perfect. I understood mistakes meant you were learning something new. Once I got into my teens, it was clear I would never reach the level of Misty Copeland, but the world of dance opened up and I was able to forge a new path that brought me two wonderful seasons cheering in the NFL.
Dance shaped me into the woman I am today., and I still lean heavily on those lessons learned as a tiny dancer.
Michelle Chernicoff, Communications Specialist
The Healing Power of Movement
Ballet and I have always had a love/hate relationship. Anyone in the dance world knows that ballet is not for the faint of heart. It challenges your daily and demands constant growth, personal attention, and commitment. I often found myself questioning, “How can the one thing that makes me feel so confident and strong, also make me feel so inadequate?”
The most powerful lesson that I have experienced with dance is the healing power of movement. This lesson is what lead me to receive my Master of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling from Columbia College Chicago. I have devoted my career to helping others discover how dance and movement can help them heal from trauma, depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Together, my clients and I explore the infinite wisdom of the body and work to grow and expand the body and mind connection.
Dance is for everyone and anyone can benefit from moving their body. Young kids can gain important lessons in discipline and increase their self-awareness. Teens and young adults can improve their body-confidence and gain important social connections. Older adults can reconnect to their changing bodies, and learn to express emotions that may have been dormant.
Sarah Rot, MA, R-DMT Creative Arts Therapist
How did ballet influence you? Do you think there is enough diversity? Share your thoughts with us.