This Weeks Ambassadors
THIS WEEKS DANCE STORIES
I fell in love with ballet when I was merely three years old. It was right after my mother took me to watch The Nutcracker. I began practicing once a week and soon I found myself at the studio dancing for three hours every day, for five days a week. Years later, I danced for the first time in my pointe shoes on stage. But my happiness was short lived. After four weeks from that performance, I found myself incredibly weak and could barely do a routine. My mother understood that something was wrong. The doctor told my mother that he’d call right after the results and my father’s phone rang after two hours. It was Leukemia.
I had never been sick before and had only suffered from an ear infection once. The test results left my parents numb. I was taken to the hospital next day where my treatment began. I had to spend seven days at the hospital for the first round of treatment. When I returned after that, I was in for a surprise. When we came around the corner, there were orange (colour for Leukemia awareness) tied up and they remained for almost a year. I was determined not to let it get in my way and I practiced throughout my treatment.
“Ballet is a lot harder than battling cancer, because with ballet you have a million things going through your head and you have to keep your stomach engaged and point your feet and smile on top of everything." Cancer is difficult because of the side effects and the hair loss, but the hair does eventually grow back once you’re done with the chemotherapy, but ballet is a lifelong challenge I am determined not to give up on. “Cancer has taken a lot of things from me -- school, church, even my hair, but I’m not going to let it take ballet from me. I’m not going to let it take my joy away from dancing.”
I started performing when I was 5 years, often with my father. My parents were dancers and I was greatly influenced by them. I began learning gymnastics when I was seven years old and 2 years later I was given the option to choose either performing on stage or continue my gymnastics training and I chose the former. “You cannot really call what I was doing with my father ballet. My mother said ‘this is not cute anymore. Either we start training properly or you cannot continue performing.” And that’s when I took my training seriously.” I trained with her daily for 10 years, but I was never forced by either of my parents. They always gave me the freedom to choose my passion. I became sure of my choice when I won the Grand Prix at the Helsinki International Ballet competition and decided to choose ballet as a profession. I joined the ballet company of Vienna State Opera in 2002 as a demi-soloist and since then have danced in many classical, neoclassical and contemporary repertoires.
At 21, I did not have much experience dancing with a partner. When I trained at home, I had the luxury to train just the way I liked, but after joining the American Ballet Theatre I did not have the luxury and had to work hard on it. I began competing at 12 and I rarely worked with dancers my own age and competitions gave me perspective. “Because I had no spring performance or exams, competitions provided a goal for me to work toward.” I always tried a new variation and technique for every competition to avoid being repetitive and allow variation in my performances.
“I’m a bit of a geek”. Computer is my favourite way to get my mind off of ballet and relax. Unfortunately, people still have misconceptions about ballet and it still hasn’t gained much recognition in several parts of the world. . I developed “Intensio” as an opportunity to make a personal artistic statement that brings technology and ballet together. I’ve always wanted people to open up to the ballet world and see how much effort every dancer puts in for each performance. “People think of ballet as old-fashioned, but, we, the new generation can fix that.”
I started dancing when I was three years old. Every year, I fell more and more in love with it and I was 11 or 12 years old when I decided that I really wanted to work hard for it. Almost a year later, I fell sick and it took the doctors about 6 months just to find out what was really wrong with me. I had Hodgkin Lymphoma, a form of blood cancer and it had to be treated quickly. I had four rounds of chemotherapy and three weeks of daily radiation over the course of six months. I thought that it was over until I suffered from a life threatening eating disorder and my weight was down to 75 pounds.
I tried to dance even at that time, but I was so thin and weak and I couldn’t do it any longer. I could barely open my eyes or move and I got daily shots which made any sort of body moment excruciatingly painful. Every time I dance now, I think about how it felt like not being able to move and do what I loved the most. I always say that dance saved me. “Every time I danced, I had a high pitched cough I called “The Dolphin Cough.” It led us to find the mass in my chest. Dance also saved me emotionally by being my outlet during treatment – my goal and passion.”
Now, I’m pursuing a professional dance career and studying which earlier seemed impossible for me. I try and bring passion to my performances after everything that cancer has taught me. Every time I dance, I think about all those children who are in the situation where I was earlier. Maybe they want to play soccer or play baseball or even paint, but can’t sit up to do whatever they want. I want to be an example or maybe a source of hope for them because even though it may seem like it is the end, there’s always hope to be strong again and do all those things that they like.
“Dance means so much to me! In my classes every day I learn about working hard, achieving goals, patience, believing in myself, and about pushing beyond what I think I can do. Also, it is still very therapeutic. I know I can always rely on it at the end of the day, no matter how good or bad it was.”