College: Washington State University
Every Little Girl’s Dream
Every little girl’s dream is to become a dancer. It was my dream as well.
At the age of seven I entered the dance world, and attended beginning ballet class every Saturday morning for one brief hour a Susan Cooper’s School of the Dance in Mt. Vernon for little dancers. I remember how I felt at my first lesson, excited and scared, with visions of myself in the distant future as a prima ballerina in a glorious spangled pink tutu. I continued to dance, advancing slowly by levels each year, adding then multiplying the hours that I invested at the barre. By age ten, I was dancing six hours a week, while my peers back at school were playing basketball and discussing boys. At lunch, everyone talked about what happened at practice and whether the coll boy in the match class would come to the birthday party. I lived and breathed ballet; their interest and mine no longer converged. As I increased my hours spent in the studio, my feeling of being an outcast increased proportionally.
Dancing was not a hobby to me, it became what I lived for. I did not care that I had little in common with my classmates; I enjoyed my isolation because the feeling that I had my first ballet class was still inside me. I was going to be a professional dancer, and I would do anything to achieve that goal. That tutu changed to sweaty rehearsal clothes, leg warmers, and tattered toe shoes. Ballet lessons four times a week. The basement room in my 0parents’ house became my practice room and the Ping-Pong table was a substitute barre. In addition to my winter work, I attended intensive summer dance camps for three years, concentrated dance training taught by professional dancers from all over the world. These summer programs not only improved my dancing skills, but also they gave me a sense of self-discipline and independence that has stayed with me to the present.
The climax of my dancing career was my acceptance to the Pacific Northwest Ballet Summer School in 1983. I was thirteen with braces and stars in my eyes. I can still remember the day I auditioned, the first time that I had been surrounded by serious competition. I thought that there was no chance of my being accepted. When the letter of acceptance came in the mail, I was shocked, amazed, and very pleased because I was accepted to the “elite” ballet school in
Washington State. My success gave me the incentive to work even harder at my hometown ballet school; I knew I had to push myself in order for me to be able to compete with the other dancers.
The day finally arrived for me to go to Seattle where I would begin the six best weeks of my life. I learned new skills, a fierce independence, and continuous discipline. My urge to be a ballerina grew stronger and stronger. At the end of the six weeks, students were evaluated on their performance and a select few were offered the chance to continue through the year. I was so proud to be chosen. The decision was not hard, although I realized that I had to leave home, parents, and friends for a time. I knew that was the price I was going to pay if I really wanted to dance.
I moved to my new home with Debra Hadly, one of the principal ballerinas in the company. I began my new regime: three hours a day, six days a week, at the same time attending a demanding all-girls Catholic School, Holy Name Academy. It was a special year, not only for me but also for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, because the company worked feverishly to produce the world premiere performance of Maurice Sendak’s The Nutcracker Suite, a re-creation of story, costumes, scenery, sets and choreography. Without much confidence I attended the auditions, hoping for a part. My wish was granted with two fairly demanding roles: part of the Calvary and a Scrim Mouse. I was ecstatic! Even though I would have to spend every weekend in Seattle for rehearsals, I did not care. I lived and breathed the exciting world of professional ballet. Opening night was sheer magic. Exhausted but delirious with accomplishment, I did my homework in backstage corners in between rehearsals.
Unfortunately, the Nutcracker also marked the beginning of my failure as a dancer. I began to worry about my competition than about my self-improvement. My body began to take the shape of a normal teenager rather than that of dancer. I found that I really missed being connected with my mother, a crucial part of a young teenage girl’s life. By mid-April I was depressed; I had put on fifteen pounds and dancing no longer made me happy. It was time for me to do some serous evaluating of my situation. I met with the head of the Ballet School and with my mother many times, and I finally concluded that it was time to give up dance. This was the hardest decision of my life. It led to a good year of finding a “new” Shelley. I felt that someone had taken away the past fourteen years of my life and I had to start all over. It was an extremely hard time for me, but with the encouraging support of my mother and close friends, I pulled out of it, I worked hard to become a normal teenaged girl. I learned to liked football games, parties, cheer leading, friends, and good times. I also learned to like myself once more.
When I look back at what I had to go through and what I gave up to become a dancer and then at my decision to leave the world of ballet, I wonder how I made it through my fifteenth year. I have come out of that black period of my life with a great many personal strengths. I have talents other than dancing; I am a strong independent, and caring person. I have met with depression and have turned my failure into success. Somewhere in the black corner of my head lives a pink tutu, but my years as a dancer are behind me and I am ready to take on new challenges.