"Even at My Lowest Points, Choosing Not to Dance Has Never Been an Option"
Cirio in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet
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.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?