Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet

"I Dance Because of the Community I Am In; I Am Surrounded By Fighters"

Waking up in the morning after a late performance and walking to class isn't always easy. But once I'm in the studio and the pianist begins, a familiar rhythm ensues.

I love the physicality of this routine. It is like solving a puzzle every day, translating the imagery in my mind into my body. Ballet technique is an art in itself: the art of engaging some muscles and relaxing others, balancing hips over toes, and shaping fingers and feet.


What's fascinating is that it can never be flawless, even though dancers constantly strive for perfection. So I continue to stretch my knees, breathe into my port de bras, and inject energy into my petite allegro. I dance because I am unsatisfied, and I want to be better.

I have been dancing for long enough that my progress in dance is integrated with my progress in "real life." With age, I have become more confident and self-assured. Not caring about what others think has allowed me to dance with abandon. One imperfect move in a performance used to overwhelm me, but now I trust myself enough to surge past a misstep and remain in the moment.


Perhaps the toughest part about being a ballet dancer is finding your own identity within the art form. As beautiful and as blissful as it is to dance, I have seen ballet swallow up dancers and spit them back out. It can be ruthless.

And the pain can be both physical and psychological: the disappointment of not being cast in a ballet, getting a terrible review after pouring out your heart and soul onstage, or succumbing to an injury.

But when I ask myself why I dance, immediately I think about the high points. I remember the tears of joy and relief after opening Liam Scarlett's full-length ballet, Frankenstein, which premiered here in February. It was the first full-length ballet where I was a part of the creative process. I recall that blissful moment when everyone celebrated the collaboration that produced a beautiful work of art.

I continue to dance because of the community I am in. I am surrounded by fighters. People who celebrate their victories and find strength when they are weak. People who have willpower and such commitment to their work that they continue to dance through the toughest days. It is in this community that I have become the dancer who I am today.

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