Ballet is not always about looking cute and pretty while wearing a pink tutu.
Growing up, dancing ballet was very close to my heart. I started at the age of 5, but stopped, only to resume taking classes six years later. I would always have a routine to get ready for my ballet class. I would put on my pink tights that go all the way from my waist down to the tips of my toes, then put on my black sleeveless leotard that fits like a glove on my upper body but leaves my legs free, exposing my dance tights. I would then set my hair up in a bun and secure it with bobby pins and a hair net. After stuffing my dance bag stuffed with my ballet essentials, I’d finally head to the ballet studio.
On the ride to the studio, I would always stay quiet to go through my mental checklist, wondering if I had brought everything I needed for class. I would try to go over in my head the choreography that our teacher had taught us during our previous practice.
By the time I arrive at the studio, I am welcomed by a scent of jasmine with a hint of sweat filling the air and the sight of my classmates warming up. I immediately retrieve my ballet shoes from my bag, put them on, and stretch my legs together with my classmates to warm up as we wait for our teacher to enter the room.
As soon as the teacher arrives, we start the class with a quick prayer. Our teacher then greets us and instructs us to start our barre routine. We comply by going to our usual spot along the pink metal barres mounted beside the walls that are covered in full-length mirrors. As we begin our routine, soft classical music resonates throughout the studio, contrasting with the sharp voice of our teacher screaming about having “deeper pliés and higher arabesques.” I focus on the music while I think of the dance steps and occasionally glance at the mirror to see if I positioned my body right. I focus on perfecting the routine and picturing my favorite ballerina dancer, whom I wish to see performing one day. These are the two things that keep me going, especially when the routines get tough.
Everything we do in class prepares us for the day we get to perform on stage. Preparing for the stage performance is very strenuous, time-consuming, and physically demanding. Our teacher tended to push us harder by being stricter during rehearsals than on days when we didn’t have any upcoming shows to prepare for. Rehearsing for performance day would equate to having longer hours of rehearsals, which could be very draining, both mentally and physically.
“I think people see dancing as this simple art where people just go up on stage and turn on their toes and flitter around.”
I think people see dancing as this simple art where people just go up on stage and turn on their toes and flitter around. But I think that if they look behind the curtains, they would be surprised to learn how hard ballet actually is.
Performance day has finally arrived and after several months of endless rehearsals, it has come down to just an hour and a half, though it would always feel like a good 10 minutes for us dancers. As soon as the curtains open, my palms start to sweat and get cold, as I know that any second now, I would have to put on a show along with my co-dancers.
As soon as I hear the first note of the music, my heart races. I can no longer feel my legs — not a good thing, since I am going to need them to properly function for our dance. But when I step out on stage, with the bright stage lights directly hitting my face, I let go of every negative thought and let the music of Tchaikovsky take me away. I simply forget the nervousness I was feeling. I feel the music take over my body as I try to get the choreography done and think about not falling or hitting the girl dancing next to me.
Nothing beats the feeling of being onstage with friends who share your passion. But we also had to endure a lot of struggle and stress together. Ballet can be both a blessing and a curse.
“What you see on stage is the total opposite of what you see backstage.”
What you see on stage is the total opposite of what you see backstage. What you see are perfectly arched feet, but what you don’t see are blisters bleeding through tights and dead toenails turning deep purple. I lift my legs into an arabesque and dance across the stage.
What you see are hands that move perfectly with the music, but what you don’t see are the sweaty palms trying to make every move in sync with the tune. As I dance on stage, I try to catch my breath and recall the corrections my teacher made during rehearsals.
What you see are colorful tutus embellished with intricate and shimmery details, but what you don’t see are scratches and red marks underneath the itchy bodice. I hold my breath for a second as I nearly miss a step.
What you see is a perfect double pirouette, but what you don’t see are our dizzy visions as soon as we land on those turns. I feel the sweat drip on my back as I struggle to make a double pirouette.
What you see is a perfectly relaxed face with a smile, but what you don’t see backstage is a breakdown of tears with fear in our eyes as we try to catch our breaths. I flash my biggest smile for the audience even though my feet are hurting from my pointe shoes and I can already feel my blisters bleeding.
“Bravo!” cheered our teacher from the crowd as our performance came to an end. Confetti rained down on us as we took our final bows. As the audience applauded, I couldn’t have felt more relieved that our performance had ended gracefully. As the red curtains closed on us, I screamed and shed tears of joy with my fellow dancers. I felt like I was over the moon because I could finally catch my breath.
The things that dancers learn in the classroom will stay with them throughout their lives. The dedication, focus, determination, and passion are what help them achieve their goal of becoming professional performers. As I took off my pointe shoes and costume and removed my makeup and hair pins, I recalled all the obstacles I had gone through to get to this day and felt grateful.
“Ballet is self-expression without having to use any words, but in order to achieve that, you need to work — hard.”
Ballet was never about looking cute and pretty while wearing a pink tutu. It was about blood, sweat, tears, and smiling through the pain. It was about hard work and patience. Ballet is beautiful. It’s self-expression without having to use any words, but in order to achieve that, you need to work — hard. Ballet is both a blessing and a curse.
But it was all worth it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.