New York, NY: In the pile of junk mail, letters and bills was just what I was looking for. Seeing the large envelope, I let out a shriek. Then, timidly, I unfolded the paper that revealed the word "Congratulations!" As an added plus, it all happened on my seventeenth birthday.
Being accepted to the Juilliard School Summer Dance Intensive is my reward for the countless hours of ballet, jazz, modern dance, tap and flamenco I've put in during my 13 years of dancing. My acceptance to their summer intensive meant I would receive the training I've longed for from world-renowned faculty, while living in my favorite city.
When I arrived I met my roommates and immediately knew this program would differ from other summer camps - I was the only student from Connecticut! After many conversations with international students I realized my perception of what I call home strikingly resembled theirs. None of us were born in the United States, or were even American citizens. I was different because I'd lived in three countries: I was born in England, grew up in Spain and then moved to Connecticut, but I consider myself Brazilian since my family is from there.
Juilliard's dance classes exceeded my expectations. The level of difficulty was right for everyone, and the hard work was extremely gratifying. I improved my ballet tremendously and saw my modern technique from a different angle, learning new styles. Contemporary partnering was new to me (combining pas de deux and modern choreography) and I looked forward to every class. Ballroom made me proud of my heritage, since the merengue, cha-cha and tango are all Latin and seemed to come naturally to me (my family always tells me, "it is in your blood, querida"). Finally, music and understanding technique were more academic, but are crucial for a well-rounded training to educate a dancer in all aspects of her field.
Although the teachers at Juilliard's summer program had resumés five feet long, all were very approachable, such as Mr. Tosti of the Paul Taylor Company. Their idiosyncrasies won't allow me to forget them. One classical ballet instructor paid very close attention to details, which helped rid me of bad habits. Now I know how raising one shoulder can throw off my line completely. Mr. Tosti gave me the freedom to look at my modern dancing differently, and allow me to "let it happen" as opposed to "making it happen." Mrs. Johnson showed me new modern styles, such as the Cunningham technique. Mr. Wallace allowed me to experiment with singing and instruments to find musicality; and Irene Dowd taught me about my "visceral sphere" and human anatomy.
I was once asked whether all the effort and stress of dancing so much was worthwhile. After Juilliard's summer intensive, I definitely believe that being a serious dancer involves more than taking classes and having advanced technique. During the end-of-session presentation, I dispensed my soul through my movements, and stretched them to their fullest with a content heart. My smile shone brightly, symbolic of my passion for dance.
All the car rides from school to ballet classes huddled with a flashlight doing homework, eating my dinner, or even changing into my leotard while ducking down when the occasional truck passed, were worthwhile. They helped me realize what I needed to go through to make me most content in the life ahead of me.
Reviewed in 2004
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.