Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed my family members take on many interests, and their various interests have greatly influenced me to try new things. One of the earliest instances I can remember was with my older cousin, Brenda, who pursued her passion of dance by taking ballet lessons. According to my mom, when my family and I went to see Brenda’s ballet performances, I took delight in watching the graceful dancers and their intricate, colorful costumes. After the show, I would ask if I could go up on stage. When I was lifted up, I enjoyed looking out from the quiet, empty stage.
When I was four years old, my parents enrolled me into a ballet studio in the Mission District. I remember receiving many small, hand-me-down, pale pink leotards, tights, tutus and ballet slippers from my cousin.
I can remember little details from when I first started taking ballet lessons, such as the steep stairs I had to climb up to get to the studio, and the playful music they played. I participated in a few beginner performances, in which my peers and I were dressed up in different costumes and ran around the stage. However, that is really the extent to which I remember. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely solely on my memory since my family took pictures of me.
My mom also likes to tell me that in one of my very first performances, every time I passed the front of the stage, I would stop, look out into the audience, and try to find my family.
Eventually, I switched to a ballet studio in the Sunset District called San Francisco Youth Ballet. I remember there was a room downstairs where I practiced and there was a giant mirror that covered one wall. I also remember learning all the ballet positions, the proper postures and arm positions I was supposed to keep. While holding onto the ballet barre, I was told to point and lightly tap my toes on the floor like I was pretending to gently crack an egg on the floor. Also, there were small, rectangular mats where we practiced our jetés (leaps) over and over. We would pretend the mats were lava so we would avoid stepping on them.
I participated in multiple larger performances for the Nutcracker during my time with San Francisco Youth Ballet. I played one of Mother Ginger’s children, the Polichinelles, for the first few times I was in the Nutcracker. The role required the other Polichinelles and I to emerge from Mother Ginger’s giant, patterned hoop skirt. The costume I wore was a shiny, frilled lavender-purple top covered with big black polka dots, along with a matching bonnet and pants. When I was a little older, I played one of the Nutcracker’s toy soldiers. We had glittery red soldier costumes with hats, wooden toy guns, and a fake cannon to ward off the Mouse King and his mice. In that same performance, I also played a party guest when Clara, the main character, was gifted the toy Nutcracker at Christmas. Since there was a lack of boys at the ballet studio, my dance partner and I took turns playing the girl and the boy, and I can remember the festive, vintage red and yellow party dresses we wore as we curiously watched Clara dance in excitement with her new gift. The last role I remember playing in the Nutcracker performances was a lollipop girl in the Land of Sweets. For the role, we wore beautiful dresses including some bright pink and pastel yellow ones. Although I remember looking forward to finally being old enough to play a lollipop girl, my favorite roles were still the soldier and the party guest; I had a lot of fun dancing in the Nutcracker performances.
When our time backstage wasn’t take up getting into our costumes, putting on makeup, and struggling with putting our hair into buns, my friends and I played Uno and watched Barbie movies on a small portable DVD player I would bring. We watched movie after movie, which developed into a Barbie movie addiction that I fortunately no longer have. I also lacked patience when I was younger—and I arguably still do—so those hours backstage seemed to last forever, especially since we were told to keep quiet.
I stopped taking ballet lessons when I was about seven years old. I lost my passion for it, but I don’t regret it. Even though I now become exasperated the moment I hear a song from the Nutcracker soundtrack, I think my experience taking ballet lessons was valuable—I learned about balance, posture and gracefulness through dancing. In part because of ballet, I feel somewhat comfortable being on a stage and I can appreciate the hard work performers put into their craft. I also have great memories from that time. If I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I wouldn’t have experienced all these components, which expanded my view of the world and tested the limits of what I think I am capable of doing. Since I already tried it, I now know I don’t want to pursue ballet in my future. I believe it is important to try new things because they provide an opportunity to learn new information about the world, as well as yourself, and to share experiences with amazing people. We won’t know unless we try.