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Hi guys! Thank you to those who were so supportive in reading and listening to The Ugly Truth. The reason I published it was because of the requests from parents who asked me, “What is the honest to god truth about your experience in dance?”
People are afraid to acknowledge what is behind that two and a half minutes on stage, which is why I felt it was important to shed a light on it in my article. I also, however, see that my last article focused a lot on the heavy side of the studio. So in this article, I wanted to talk about the things that have kept me dancing.
I may not have been in the “it crowd” in dance, and many of my friends that I have met through dance that I am still close with to this day, interestingly, I didn’t grow up dancing with. I met them at auditions and summer intensives. My best friend and I have been together for the past five years (marking July 2015), and we met at my first American Ballet Theatre summer intensive. A few of my other dear friends I met six years ago (marking July 2014) at Los Angeles Ballet Academy’s summer intensive. I also met my dearest friend and teacher of six years, Philip Pegler at this intensive. As we have both gotten older, our relationship and friendship as teacher & student have grown with us. I’ve watched many friends grow up from these intensives and become professional ballet dancers in big league companies, and I always half-joke with them saying, “One day, I’ll get on your level!”
These friends have been there for me through thick and thin. We’ve created memories of both celebrating and bonding over our hardships via FaceTime. Philip Pegler and I created memories in the studio, as I had many private lessons with him during my academy training. He gave me so much wisdom that I carry close to my heart each day. He made me fall in love with the character side of acting and made me feel comfortable in my own skin as I tried my hardest to improve at what I love. He continually said to me on multiple occasions: “Ballet is not who you are, it’s something you do. You aren’t ballet, but your story, that’s who you are. You put yourself in ballet to express what you’re trying to say.” We’ve laughed together, cried together, he became a ballet father to me and we have a special relationship that I can cherish for the rest of my life.
My best friend, Yingru, has edited my videos for the past three years. I met her five years ago, saw her graduate high school, spent nights at her college dorm room at UCLA, and while yes, life was incredibly difficult, we were a comfort to each other. In the middle of loss and sadness, she was my rock, and vice versa. We half-joke and say we’re soulmates, because we seem to be on the same wavelength in terms of knowing when each other is doing great or doing poorly, and if that’s not a best friend, I don’t know what is.
When I first started dancing with my teacher Jana, she was 21 and I was almost 7. We lived life together. And when I say lived, I mean, we lived. I watched her 2-year-old daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady. I just recently did her makeup for her first high school formal, and I’m not going to lie, I cried thinking about it. I watched Jana go through many phases, have known her in a broken marriage and in a healthy one, I have watched her have two beautiful babies…I got to hold Ryder a few days after he was born, and not long after, I got to hold Amarette a few days after she was born.
We’ve danced in the craziest places, and just as I have watched her grow in 15 years, she has watched me go from a little child to an ever-growing adult. She helped me when I got my period— yes, I got my first period at ballet class. She has watched me have mental breakdown after mental breakdown, and we’ve cried together. Her, my mom, and myself just crying out of relation to the frustration I felt toward my body and dance. She watched me go through my rebellious stages and had my back and loved me through every minute of it. She came to my company performances and in her teacher fashion, “teached” the crap out of me and everyone else.
Ballet— the art of moving— is fun. It’s incredible. There’s no better feeling than going from doing it the wrong way to feeling the sudden click of “aha!” in your brain and it translating to your body. I remember doing my first triple pirouette. My first quadruple pirouette. I remember the first and only time I did six pirouettes on pointe. I jumped for joy (There’s live footage of me in one of the seasons of LIFE ON POINTE screaming, “I just did four! Whoop!” while jumping for joy).
I remember the first time I enjoyed petite allegro. I remember the first time I jumped high enough to touch the low ceiling of my dance studio. I remember thinking about how far I’d come— from Jana asking me to jump within four giant squares and not being able to get off the ground to feeling like I could fly once I used my body correctly.
“Ballet, when you do it right, is easy.” Philip Pegler always told me that, and I would get irritated every time he said it, because I wasn’t thinking of ballet in the aspect of just dancing. I was thinking about all the emotional and physical and mental strain of the physical aspect on top of all the pressure I felt.
The first time I experienced ballet as “easy” was in a class at my first company with my wonderful and brilliant teacher, Grigori. He fixed my dancing— the difference is night and day because of him. It was probably my second or third week in and no one showed up to class except myself. He showed up to teach, and instead of going home, he worked with me for two hours. In that two hours, my mind and body were able to click things together and it continued into future classes. I’ll be forever thankful for his guidance. In one of his classes (that were NEVER easy, mind you), I just allowed myself to perform in my own little world. I allowed myself to enjoy ballet for what felt like the first time in a very, very long time. When I did this, all the pressure left, all the angst left, and for an hour, ballet was easy. The pain was worth it. Ballet was easy.
I remember texting Mr. Pegler saying, “You were right— ballet is easy when done right.”
Ballet has taught me so much— it has taught me the importance of hard work. It has taught me perseverance. It has taught me to value relationships, that you can’t do this by yourself. It has taught me excellence, that while no one will ever be perfect, excellence is always required. It has taught me discipline— even when you feel like crap and you don’t want to do another set of plies ever again or listen to waltz of the flowers from Nutcracker ever again to get up and go do the damn thing.
These things— hard work, perseverance, dedication, excellence, discipline, valuing people— it has shaped me as a person. While I will constantly be growing and maturing, I am proud of what dance has made me become. Dance has brought joy. Whenever I hear a piece of music I love, I start dancing because it is engrained in me. Whenever I get excited, I do a little dance. Dance itself is an expression of joy. We dance because we’re joyful, and when we’re sad, we dance because we know it will make us happy.
Dance is fun. Ballet is fun. I envy the person that does ballet “for fun,” because the person striving to become a professional forgets the beautiful truth that ballet is beautiful, ballet is a blessing, and ballet is fun. The person who dances “just for fun” dances because they’re happy, and dances because ballet makes them happy. The person who dances to become a professional dancer can often get lost in the pressure, in the mental and emotional stress, in the striving for something more.
I dearly hope that as I continue my journey in dance that I don’t allow myself to get lost in the “Valley of the shadow of dance—“ but rather, remember that I do it to bring joy, to myself, to others, to make the girl watching me smile.
I remember doing a photoshoot in the park. A grandmother approached me with her granddaughter who asked if they could take a picture of a “real ballerina.” In that moment I realized that people, the audience, don’t really care who you are. If you bring them joy, you have created a special memory for them. The pure innocence of dance gives makes people feel something that they can’t explain— a sense of awe and wonder that fades away when you grow from a child to an adult.
I have the best job in the world— I get to create an atmosphere for people. I get to tell them a story and help them escape into a land that is not the one they live in. I get to bring joy to the people in the audience for two and a half minutes or two and a half hours on stage. That is the part that is most satisfying and worth it. Everything, the ugly truth behind that two and a half minutes on stage is made worth it by the honest to god truth that ballet is a gift.
If ballet were to be returned to the true nature of it’s origin, then everyone would want to do it. But ballet is not for the faint of heart or the weak-minded. It takes courage to tell a story with your own emotions, your own story. It takes strength to have unwavering focus. It takes time to perfect. It takes a level of acceptance of what it is and what the expression of ballet is required to come through— a level of acceptance between the dancer and the dancer’s instrument.
The truth about me, Ellie, is this: I ruffle feathers. I change culture. I’m a reformer. I’m a spiritual warrior. And if you have no idea what that means, that’s okay. All you need to know is, I have a calling on my life to bring change. I consider myself at times cynical and a realist, and I do my best to find the balance between acknowledging the facts and addressing how to change bad culture and finding the beauty and the good, because everything has pros and cons. While again, perfection will never be reached, I hope a level of excellence will be achieved in finding that balance. I change atmospheres and I shake culture and I do my best to help set the example to rebuild and reform. And dance is teaching me balance.
I love dance. With all my heart. I don’t want to sit still, I want to get up and go, but I need to strengthen my mind, soul, and body so that the world of ballet doesn’t overcome me. So while I begin my ministry, while I continue to find myself and root myself in love, I will continue to prepare for the next adventure ballet will take me on.
Chat soon lovelies.