When I was born, the delivery doctor exclaimed to my parents, "You have a dancer on your hands!" I had been a footling breech baby and entertained myself by jumping in utero, until I jumped so hard that I broke my mom's water and was delivered as a C-section. Cut to present day: I wake up each morning, head to the building where I've worked for almost 16 years, strap on my pointe shoes and dance almost seven hours a day as a professional. Yes, every day I choose to dance, but in some ways, it is as if dance actually chose me.
With Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet
Growing up, I wanted to be that girl who was skilled at sports and could hang with the boys. Alas, that was not the case. I was fast and could run the bases or a soccer field, but when it came to hitting the ball or kicking it into the goal, I would disappoint. Instead, I excelled most when I was dancing. I was the shy girl, able to express herself without words, and dance gave me the opportunity to work and train in something that made me feel whole.
I loved the four walls of the ballet studio. However, ballet is a competitive world, and I attended a highly competitive school. My fellow students and I were all vying for attention and corrections from teachers, and for the same parts. I sometimes felt very alone. But I found solace in class, rehearsals, performing, watching ballet and focusing on being the best I could be.
When, at 16, I was hired by Mikko Nissinen for Boston Ballet II, my love affair with dance sometimes became toxic. Not being chosen for parts because of the way I looked, weight issues, disappointment with reviews and competition with others took a toll on me. Yet, I still pushed forward, finding my comfort in the studio.
As the years passed, I've realized that even at my lowest points, choosing not to dance has never been an option. I know I'm at my absolute best mentally, physically and emotionally when I'm dancing the most. The stage is one of my best friends. Not everyone will like me as a dancer and as a person, and that is okay. I've learned I enjoy passing on my love of the art form to the next generation and inspiring other young Asian dancers. I often hear dancers say, "Dance does not define me." Although dance does not define all of me, it certainly is a big part of what defines me, and I'm not ashamed of that.