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Richmond Ballet's Maggie Small on Finding Magic in the Studio & Onstage

Maggie Small in John Butler's "Portrait of Billie." Photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Recently in rehearsal there was a moment when time simply stopped. We were working on the wedding pas from The Sleeping Beauty, and I became completely unaware of the visitors who had come to watch. I was even unaware of the watchful eyes of my ballet master. All that I knew in that moment was the bliss of being intertwined with the music, the choreography and my partner. For just a few counts, I spent a moment on another plane.


For me, dancing is the only experience that creates fleeting moments of unparalleled joy. Though they only occur intermittently, when they do, the world seems in perfect balance. Everything harmonizes and the stresses associated with the endless pursuit of perfection lift. It is magic.

Sometimes such a moment happens onstage, shared with an audience. Other times there is a flash of glory in rehearsal or class when everything just seems right. These moments, when abandon converges with control, are what inspire me to return to the studio every day.

Small in William Soleau's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy Richmond Ballet.

As a student, I always told myself that if dancing ever came to feel like mundane work, I would no longer pursue it. The fact of the matter is that dance is entirely repetitive, demanding hard work. Outside of the studio, it dictates a dedicated lifestyle in order to operate at peak performance level at all times. Inside of the studio, it commands an incredible discipline of both mind and body. Dance calls for thoughtful, unbelievable commitment as well as remarkable resilience.

Almost paradoxically, it also demands that a dancer live in the moment—to be present and fully committed to engaging in the world as it moves. While we might strive to meet all of these demands in every moment, we often miss in our attempts. However, on rare occasions, when everything aligns, all of the work comes to fruition in an unmatchable, enchanted moment. This is the reward we reap from giving ourselves wholly to our art.

Small in John Butler's "Carmina Burana." Photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy Richmond Ballet.

In those moments of magic, the pressures and complexities of professional dance disappear. For a splendid blip of time in that rehearsal of The Sleeping Beauty, everything was pure and simple.

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