In first grade, I used to twirl and leap around the classroom so often that my teacher nicknamed me “twinkle toes.”
I was a blue-eyed, Polish little towhead who loved chiffon ballet skirts more than anything else. When I was three, I’d run off the school bus on Fridays to pull on my pink tights, leotard, skirt and slippers and ask my mom over and over for the next hour when we could leave.
I spent my Friday afternoons in the dance studio with eleven other three-year-old girls on the barres in front of me. Two assistant teachers watched us in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors while the instructor called out barre exercises.
By thirteen, ballet felt like a second language. All twelve of the thirteen-year-old girls at the barre heard “four tendues to the front, with four degagés to the front, and a battement close, and a developé to the back close fifth, soutenue and plié,” and executed it to the music, perfectly in sync.
When I turned thirteen, I started school at a performing arts charter school to “further my dance career,” as my mother put it when she signed the paperwork. I took my academics in the morning. In the afternoons I learned the styles of Broadway jazz and hip-hop, modern and contemporary, leaping across the floors and perfecting my pirouettes. This was when I’d contented myself to a future of ruined pedicures and Venetian tutus.
I bulked up my class list at the studio and soon boasted a full five-night a week dance schedule. I watched nothing but shows like Dance Moms and So You Think You Can Dance, and spent hours every two weeks tending to my pointe shoes—sewing ribbons, repairing ripped satin and buffing out the scuffs.
I wanted to become a ballerina or a dance teacher until I hit seventeen years old, but when I started looking at colleges, my idea of my future changed. I was more practical than I let on, and wanted a career path that wouldn’t be so hit or miss in terms of employment. Even so, I knew I’d still pursue dancing in college—either through a minor, or through dance teams and arts clubs. All of these were on my lists for potential colleges.
I picked my school not only because of the stellar political science program, but also because of the nationally placing dance team. I moved to school with the date of dance team auditions on my calendar, my phone and a sticky note in my purse—August 20, 2014 at 12pm in the gym. Every time I saw one of my reminders, I felt a nervous flutter in my stomach.
In my mind, I constantly replayed my idea of a “perfect Cinderella story” where a Hollywood agent would approach me after seeing me dance at a competition and jumpstart my career. I even practiced answering interview questions about it in the shower.
The audition started easy enough, with the coach—a formidable young brunette with a high bun and superiority complex—introducing herself and asking us to stand in four lines to do exercises across the floor. We started with high kicks, then moved through the usual itinerary of front leaps, center leaps and switch leaps. I considered my flexibility my strong suit, and flew through the air with ease, my expectations well above my legs.
Following that, we learned a floor routine—sassy jazz, complete with hair flips and personality. I tried as hard as I could to have fun, while also remembering all the lessons of my youth—pointed toes, straight knees, turnout, keep that ribcage in, but don’t forget to smile, Faith you’re losing your face in your turns, but make sure to keep your shoulders down!
Looking back on it now, I felt terrified. I kept forgetting to breathe because I was so focused on keeping my face for the duration of the routine, and would end the combination seeing stars. The willowy, muscular dancers next to me that could turn like tops and perfectly execute the jumps I’d never even learned before intimidated me.
We did the routine for what felt like a year, and in front of the coach for even longer. By the end, sweat poured from my shoulders, I could barely stand, and my hair fell from my carefully constructed braid. I felt confident, and just knew my performance had done me enough to get me on the team. In fact, I was probably the best one here.
Then I heard my number called, coupled with an invitation to come back next year.
I’d been cut. They hadn’t asked me to compete in the next round of the audition, let alone be a dancer on the team.
I’d never faced rejection before or been told that I needed to improve. I’d auditioned for only one thing ever, the dance company at my recreational studio. I’d never auditioned for troupes and companies at my charter school, musicals or Community Theater because I couldn’t bear the thought of being told no.
After the failed dance team audition, I went home and cried. I claimed I’d been gipped, that the coach hadn’t seen my true potential, that I’d work harder and come back next year, and that I’d stretch and practice my technique over the next couple weeks and then audition for the campus dance troupe.
That never happened. I basically shoved my jazz shoes and dancewear under my bed to collect dust. That was the first symbolic step in giving up my dream of being a dancer.
From then on, I was too scared to try out for anything else like the dance troupe at school, the many musicals we put on or even the dance team for fear of facing further rejection.
Sometimes I’ll have the urge to jeté across the classroom, or I’ll feel sad when I hear a song I danced to. I’ve told myself I’m going to go back to dance more times than I can count. But I never have, and have never made a true effort to do so.
Maybe one day I’ll fix my bruised ego and pick my pride up off the floor long enough to put on my pointe shoes again, but it looks unlikely. Right now, I guess you could say that my passion has completely fallen out of step.