To Be an Absolute Beginner This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I’ve wanted to be a ballerina ever since I performed my first pirouette while wearing the rhinestone-splattered pink and turquoise tutu included in my first ever dress-up set. I was not yet 5 years old, but I wanted— I needed—to be a ballerina. Unfortunately, I had also declared that I needed to be a horse trainer, a figure skater, and a gymnast. Needless to say, I wasn’t taken very seriously.

Most of these childhood aspirations gradually faded behind a routine of soccer practice, religious education, and family get-togethers. A glimpse of a horse or a handstand would stir my old passions but, for the most part, I was perfectly content to go with the flow. As I grew older, I grew accustomed to devoting myself to an interest and then allowing it to fade. It became a cycle. I reveled in it. I recognized it as part of my identity. I kept waiting for my dream of becoming a ballerina to fade with the others. But it never did.

Then, at the age of thirteen, I decided I was too old to dance. Some of my friends were bun-heads (so named for the tight twist of hair piled atop their heads)—they had been dancing “since they were old enough to walk.” How could I possibly compete with that? I had never received a grade below an A-, I had never lost a single soccer game in my life. I had never failed. As a result, I was unable to endure inadequacy in others, much less myself. I was convinced that, unless I excelled at dance, it would not be worth it. Plus, the girls would look at me funny. I enrolled in a general dance class at school in order to preserve my dignity and yet satisfy my ever-increasing desire to dance. I became complacent with my situation. I was fine with it.

Until I wasn’t. Enrolling in the dance class had the opposite effect of what I had hoped; instead of satiating my desire to dance, the class at school had intensified it. I became frustrated with my inability to execute the steps the way I wanted to execute them. By the end of my sophomore year, I knew what I had to do. I found a studio. I made a phone call. I registered for my first ever ballet class.

There is nothing quite like walking into a ballet studio if you’re from “the outside.” You should try it sometime. Enter the studio. Walk past the child prodigies, the “Intermediate Ballet” students, the “Advanced Intermediate Ballet” students, and the “Advanced Intermediate Professional Ballet” students. Walk past the 7 year old contortionists and 13 year old pretzels. Don’t worry; that thumping sound is not your heartbeat. It’s the sound of the wooden blocks of the ballet students’ pointe shoes hitting the floor while they’re warming-up. Arrive at the locker room. Change into your tights and your leotard. Walk to your class, titled “Absolute Beginner Ballet.” If you’re a confident adult, you’ll be only slightly intimidated. If you’re a 16 year old girl, you’ll be terrified.

And oh, was I terrified. By the time I arrived at the door, I was hyperventilating. I avoided eye contact with the instructor. I crossed the floor, head down, to the only open spot on the barre. I did not stretch for fear of calling attention to my incompetence. I was unsure of whether the instructor had ever dismissed a student from the class for their ineptitude, but I did not want to find out. Even the “Absolute Beginners” surrounding me had been dancing for years. The barre was sacred; I felt as if I was doing it an injustice by touching it with my inexperienced hands. What was I doing here? My thoughts were soon interrupted by the sound of classical music. The instructor demonstrated a combination. We copied his movements. Class had begun.


By the end of the warm-up, I was drenched in sweat. I struggled to keep up with the class. I was out of sync with the music. My instructor never strayed far from my side, gently but firmly pushing my disobedient limbs into alignment. I was by far the worst in the class. I should have been miserable. Yet I couldn’t stop smiling.

After class, my instructor approached me. He congratulated me on how well I “performed.” He hoped I would continue to “train” with him. I blinked. I realized he was addressing me. Incapable of performing any other action, I nodded enthusiastically. On my way back to the locker room, I paused at the door of the “Advanced Intermediate Ballet” class. I noticed that the curve of their feet when on pointe, the extension of their bodies when on relevé, and the roundedness of their arms when in plié was not much different than my own. I knew I’d join them one day—maybe not now, maybe not twenty years from now, but if I just kept at it, I’d join them. And for the first time, that was enough.





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