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One of the most magical things about ballet is its ability to take you all over the world. You can watch a performance of Giselle and be transported to a little village in Central Europe during the grape harvest or you can land a job in Copenhagen and find yourself on a plane Denmark-bound. The latter is what happened to me.
I am a New Yorker, born and raised. I trained for 10 years at the School of American Ballet and went to Steps during vacation weeks. The no-nonsense attitude and speed of the city equipped me with the work ethic I have today. When I accepted a contract with the Los Angeles Ballet after graduating high school, everyone warned me of an inevitable culture shock. But I was ready for a change and curious about the other side of the country.
Grace McLoughlin and Drew Grant in Transmutation. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.
Halfway through my first season with LAB, a Danish director named Peter Bo Bendixen came to watch class on strict orders from the Queen of Denmark to find her a ‘rose’ for her newest ballet, Svinedrengen. I had never thought of what type of flower I would be, but he must have seen a rose because he offered me a contract to spend that summer dancing in Copenhagen. The company was the Pantomime Theater Company in Tivoli Gardens and I was thrilled.
(At this point in my ballet career I had chosen to put my academic one on hold by deferring admission to Northwestern University.)
Having already made the leap from New York City to L.A., I was convinced that I was a seasoned nomad and could handle any future move, no problem. Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe what I went through that first summer abroad. So here’s my advice: Do your homework. Adapting to a new country is hard enough without factoring in the language barrier and foods you’ve never heard of. Take the time to study city maps and read about cultural etiquette. Learn a few basic phrases in the language and make a plan for how you will spend your first few days, be it food shopping, riding public transport, or going to the necessary registration offices. Once you’ve got that down, settling in will inevitably take some time, but at least you won’t feel too frazzled. And keep an open mind.
That following October I returned to Los Angeles Ballet with a new frame of mind. I worked hard and was given opportunities I never could’ve imagined. (Click here for Dance Magazine’s story on Los Angeles Ballet in 2010.) When offered the chance to return to Copenhagen the following summer, I accepted, looking forward to returning to the city with a trial run in my pocket. Now that I’m in in my fourth summer with the Pantomime Theater Company, Tivoli feels like home and the dancers like family. It’s all about taking risks, learning from your mistakes, and not being afraid of change.
This past fall I made the difficult decision to leave LAB to pursue my education at Northwestern. I couldn’t fight the feeling that while my artistry and physicality were growing, my brain was falling behind. I was told multiple times that when you leave the profession there is no going back, but I refused to accept that. At school I focused on my studies but continued to take dance classes and perform on the side. Now a rising sophomore, I am back in Copenhagen dancing professionally, feeling like I never left company life. Who says you can’t do both?
Inset: Grace McLoughlin and Drew Grant in Sonya Tayeh's The Back and Forth. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.