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Monday, December 9, 2013

My Ballet Story: Part 1

Today I'm going to share with you such a huge part of my life that a lot of people don't know about.  I was planning on being a professional dancer for about 12 years of my life.  I knew that it's what I wanted to do, and I was doing everything in my power to make it happen.  Some unexpected events happened that would change the course of my life, but I'm convinced that it was for the better.

As I've said before, I've been putting off writing this post for a very long time.  I don't even know where to begin, so I guess I'll start at the beginning.

When I was around 4, my parents enrolled me in dance class with cousin at a local dance studio.  We did a mixture of different dance styles, mostly singing and mimicking the teenage dance instructors at the front of the studio.  I enjoyed it ok, but it wasn't something I really looked forward to.  I wasn't even in the same class as my cousin.

My parents came across a place called the Indianapolis Ballet Theater.  It was a professional company with an academy attached.  They were a newer school, but had a range of classes for all ages.  I started in "pre ballet."


I was one of the younger ones in the class, and I remember everyone else being so much better than me.  My classes would be after school.  My mom wasn't home from work yet, so my dad had to do my hair in a bun.  The dress code wasn't too strict, pink leotard, pink tights, pink ballet shoes, and hair in a bun. I obviously was a little sloppy, but I didn't care because I loved ballet.  (You would never guess it by the look on my face.)  

*Funny story:  They had a parents meeting on how our hair was supposed to look.  The teacher called me up to the front of the class as an example.  My parents were thinking, "Heck yeah!  They're using Em as an example!"  Then the teacher said, "This is the absolute wrong way to do your child's hair." Then redid it in front of everyone.  Womp..Womp...



As I got a couple years older, I began to have ballet class more often.  2-4 times per week instead of 1-2.  Our academy got some Russian ballet legends to come to Indianapolis and work with the company. Their names are Vladilen Semenov and Irina Kolpakova.  They are a husband and wife team that also works with the American Ballet Theater in New York City.  It's so hard to try to explain how important they are to the world of ballet.  In sports terms, it's like having Babe Ruth come teach you baseball.

When this transition happened, our academy got an overhaul.  Things became much more serious, and we were now following the Vaganova syllabus.  (Irina was the last pupil of Vaganova... who the method is named after.)  We got a strict new dress code down to the serial number on your leotard.  Hair had to be in a high bun with SLICKED back hair (no fly-aways), no nail polish, so basically,we all looked the exact same.  I remember that whenever a teacher would pass you in the hall, if you were sitting, you stood up, bowed, and said hello.  It was a sign of respect and was not optional.

Oddly enough, Vlad (who looks scary) was the nicest man in the entire wold, Irina (who looks super sweet) scared the shit out of me.  I once heard her tell a girl that she "had brain like animal" after she messed up the steps.  When I was around 13, I was having a nervous breakdown and crying because I was so stressed out.  She took me by the shoulders and shook me yelling, "ssstop ca-wrying!!"  I now realize that she was so "mean" out of love.  They wanted us to succeed so badly.  She only wanted us to be our best.

Vlad, myself, and Irina
I was now dancing 5-6 days a week.  I would come home from school, change as fast as I could, and my dad would immediately drive me to ballet. (He worked 3am-11am, so his schedule really helped).  I was starting to be involved more in the company's productions and fell in love with ballet even more.  With more opportunity, came more time at ballet and less at home.

Dancing in Coppelia
Dancing in productions with the professional company was a very different experience.  The professional company was just that, professional.  There was no BS.  These people were here from many countries around the world, to dance for this company.  That was their job.  The company's job was to sell tickets and make money by putting on performances of very high quality.

The very Russian artistic director of the company, now called Ballet Internationale, was in charge.  He hired and fired the dancers, and ultimately, it was his decision who from the academy made it into his productions.  I'm not saying that this man was evil, but he certainly did not give ANY concern to feelings.  He could tell a 10 year old girl that she ate too many cheeseburgers without batting an eye. I suppose it was nicer than just calling her "fat." This dude did not mess around.  He was a perfectionist and put on some amazing ballets using his creative talents and vision.  Of anyone, he scared me the most.  I felt like my entire student dance career was one big audition to see if I could make it into the company someday.  Whenever I knew he was watching, I gave 200%.

Eventually, I knew that I was pretty good.  I started getting more and more opportunities to dance in the company productions.  I spent Monday-Saturday, at the studio, in class or rehearsal.  Some days, I was there from 3:30 to 9:30 during the week, and 9:30 to 5:00 on Saturdays.  I was working my butt off, and loving it.  


I think that's where I'm going to stop for now.  I'll share part two on Wedneday. :)

21 comments :

  1. What an interesting story! Excited to hear about part 2 :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story Emily! The part about your hair is too cute! Dancing is such hard work! I did it for several years as a young girl too but I didn't have the love for it like you did! Haha! :) Looking forward to reading more!

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  3. Waaaaaaaaa! I love the old school pics! I'm excited and so glad you are writing this!!

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  4. Looking at the picture of Vlad and Irina I completely see how she could be a scary dance teacher. Looking forward to hearing part 2!

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  5. This was a great story - it's so nice to hear about this part of your life.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this! Love reading others dancers stories :)) Can't wait for part 2!

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  7. Wow. Looking forward to part 2

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  8. YAY. I love this. Can't wait for the rest. I've always admired dancers for their discipline.

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  9. Yay! I am so happy you decided to share this with us. You will be so happy later on that you documented what you remember!! I love looking at old pictures too :)

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  10. Ahh the suspense is killing me!! Can't wait for part 2! I went to an arts school in middle school so a lot of my friends were ballet dancers and I remember them eating uncooked oatmeal for lunch so fill up their stomach but it wouldn't put any weight on them. One friend got so thin a teacher called her to the front in front of everyone, which wasn't appropriate, and asked if her parents were aware she was this thin. I can't imagine what you had to go through!

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  11. Wow! Thanks for sharing this huge part of your life with us! That first picture of you is absolutely adorable and my jaw dropped when I saw your leg all the way extended up! Can you still do that?! :) I can't wait to read more.

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  12. This is obviously a huge part of your life! Do you still dance?

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    1. Yes, it was. I don't dance anymore... I actually wrote parts 2 and 3, which will show up on Wednesday and Friday which kind of explain why I stopped.

      (P.S. I emailed you back before realizing that you were a "no reply blogger," but it went through, so if this is a duplicate response..sorry. :)

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  13. OKay I would have been afraid of them too!! That first picture is too cute!! The leg extension at the end, oh boy!

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I can't wait to hear the rest

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  15. I can't wait to read more...what a talent!!!

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  16. So glad you're sharing your story, so interesting! Looking forward to part 2 tomorrow :)

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  17. I loved reading your story! Excited to read the rest :-) You were so adorable, I love your cute dance outfits.

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  18. Can't wait to here more! I wish I would have gotten into dance more seriously!

    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle
    http://acutelifestyle.blogspot.com

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  19. So interesting! Going to read pt 2 now!

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  20. WOW girl! Such dedication at a young age...I'm off to read part 2 now!

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