The author, Courtney Henry, right. Photo by Elena Lekhova
To my fellow long-limbed dancers,
Almost every month, I receive a letter from an aspiring ballerina about her struggles as the tallest girl in the class. While growing up and peaking at six feet tall (in flat shoes), I used to have these very same insecurities.
Freelancing throughout Europe now, away from the safety net of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, I was recently met with overt commentary on my six foot frame during a ballet casting.
It's not about what you have, but how you use. Photo by Brooke Cagle/Unsplash
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
Cedar Lake alumni Matthew Min Rich and Ebony Williams in Richard Siegal's Pop HD. Photo by Ray Demski, Courtesy Siegal
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
At six feet tall, Courtney Henry cuts an unforgettable silhouette across the stage. Diligent attention to detail and an ear for syncopation allow her to traverse memorably through the solos and duets of Alonzo King’s work. Articulating impossibly long limbs, attuned like the antennae of a creature in unknown territory, there seems no limit to this Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer’s potential.
“Her stellar attributes and humility supply all the ingredients needed in a recipe for greatness.”
Company: Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Hometown: West Palm Beach, FL
Training: Palm Beach Ballet Center, The Ailey School, Ailey/Fordham BFA Program
Accolades: Youth America Grand Prix “Stars of Tomorrow” finalist, 2013 Princess Grace Award
Breakout moment: Henry celebrated her one-year anniversary with the company when LINES performed Scheherazade and Resin at the Joyce Theater in May 2012. Working through performance anxiety that she describes as “Mt. Everest–sized fears,” a recent breakup and a dance partner with the flu, Henry responded with abandon. Her lack of confidence dropped with her first entrance on to the stage, spurred on by an inner fire that surprised even her.
In King’s eyes: “Early in her training she decided that she was going to be herself. And she has remained true to that, not in indulgence but in the constant search for her unique contribution to the field.”
Challenges: Due to her long limbs, Henry did not receive many opportunities to work on partnering during her training. Though she is now fortunate to be in a tall environment at LINES, she says, “partnering is still an issue for me.” Letting her guard down has been difficult. “I have had so much personal growth, and now I am building a relationship with my colleague Robb Beresford. But I still have thoughts: Can he handle my limbs and weight?”
On the horizon: Henry is looking forward to an upcoming LINES collaboration with R&B vocalist Lisa Fischer. And she's excited about her future: "I'm sure I'll be making countless more mistakes, but I’m learning from the journey."