Pirouetting Out Of My Comfort Zone

Ballet is a really important part of my life. I inquired about ballet classes on every college tour. I was so excited to learn about Swarthmore’s ballet program and it was definitely a factor in my decision to apply here. My heart was pounding with excitement as I walked into the beautiful Troy Dance Studio on the first day of ballet class. An hour and a half later, I walked out feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. The one class that I was sure would be fun and relaxing had turned out to be just the opposite.

I came to Swarthmore with 13 years of ballet experience. Ballet II, the course recommended for me based on the informal dance evaluation during orientation week, didn’t fit in my schedule, but I was given permission to take Ballet III instead. I thought that I’d be fine and I was ready to accept the challenge. Looking back, I realize I was not at all prepared for how different it was from my classes back at home! It was so fast-paced and I just couldn’t seem to get my body to move the way my brain was telling it to. Everyone around me seemed so advanced (most had been taking ballet classes at Swarthmore for several years) and I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I left on the first day certain that I’d have to drop the class.

I met with the Dance Department chair the next day and she recommended that I go to the class for at least a few more days and then re-evaluate the situation.

I ended up deciding to stick with the class, mainly because I hate the feeling of quitting something, and also because I didn’t know what would be next for me if I didn’t! Looking back, that decision is one of the defining moments of my first year at Swarthmore. I’m so thankful that I decided to see it through. I learned so much ballet technique, but even more valuable are the life lessons that I learned:

  1. I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Every week I enjoyed Ballet III more, not because I felt much more comfortable with the class itself, but rather, because every week I became more accepting of the discomfort it made me feel. This has definitely been a positive takeaway from my first semester at Swarthmore: I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and I think I’ve become a much stronger person as a result!

  1. I learned that even if you think people are watching and judging you, chances are, they really aren’t!

Sometimes doing ballet makes me feel like a fish in a fishbowl. We dance in front of a wall of mirrors, often in small groups with everyone else standing along the sides waiting for their turn. In the first few days of Ballet III, all I could think about was what people must be thinking of me when I danced in my small group. It took me a while to realize that I was my harshest critic; everyone was either off in their own world reviewing the choreography or watching the group as a whole, they had no reason to look for the faults in my dancing! 

  1. I learned that progress often isn’t linear or rapid.

There was a week towards the middle of the semester when I finally felt something click. All of a sudden, the things that I was so discouraged by at the beginning of the semester were so much less of a struggle. At my hometown dance studio we mainly did single pirouettes and coming into a class where a double was the expectation was very intimidating. I will never forget the day when I realized that I was doing double pirouettes with ease! From that point forward, I shifted my focus away from comparing myself to others and towards the things that I was tangibly improving.

  1. As cliche as it sounds, I learned how important it is to not give up. 

I learned so much from Ballet III and I genuinely have no regrets about the experience. This semester, I am taking Ballet II and Pointe & Partnering and I’m having an absolute blast in both! I am able to continue working to apply and improve the things I learned in Ballet III in a more relaxed environment. I have the same professor for Pointe & Partnering as I did for Ballet III. Now that I’m comfortable with her teaching style, I have a totally different perspective. I can look back on my first day in Ballet III with a laugh and a smile, appreciating just how far I’ve come.