BY EMILY NICHOLS, JMC3023

I had just left another excruciating audition utterly humiliated.

Reliving the moment, I was sick to my stomach.  A weakening anxiety consumed me.  I could barely remember the combinations taught.  I could barely look at myself in the mirror.  I was disgusted by what I saw.

I felt unqualified to even attempt to get a pre-professional spot in a prestigious company like Houston Ballet.  I felt my sole worth was being determined by a number on my leotard as I desperately tried to stand out in a sea of talented dancers.  I felt like my 15 years of training were for nothing.

“I should just quit,” I kept telling myself as I drove back in tears, wrestling with the one real passion in my life not only controlling me, but often eating me alive and now making me feel worthless when I didn’t live up to my own expectations.

As a college freshman, I knew I wanted to be somewhere other than home.  I needed a change desperately.  I needed to feel like I had opportunities beyond South Florida. Most of my friends had left for universities or companies away from home and seemed so happy.  I don’t even think I knew what happiness was at that point in life.  Everyone’s life seemed to be leading somewhere while mine felt frozen in time.

I was almost finished with my associate’s degree at a small state college that didn’t offer four-year degrees in any field I wanted to go into.  Truthfully, I think I only wanted to be in college to feel like less of a failure as a dancer.  The ballet company I danced with made me miserable, and the thought of continuing there made me want to quit dancing altogether.  I needed to prove my worth to myself and my parents who always encouraged me to quit when I would complain about dancing.  Having parents with careers in science- my mom in computer science, my dad in biology- I felt I couldn’t live up to who they wanted me to be academically.  They told me to quit and be a brain surgeon.  This was a complement in their eyes, but in mine it was an insult to my purpose, and by default my very existence.

If I quit, they would win.  So I continued.

Confusion is the word to describe my life during that time.   For years, I had given up my chance at a normal life.  I sacrificed my social life, my family time, my school work and even my body.  For years, I quenched the urge of perfection through a relentless eating disorder.  My body was no longer my own.  It was a slave to my art.  I felt betrayed by my craft.  The thing I’d poured blood, sweat and tears into was controlling me and leading me down a demeaning path to nowhere.

Confusion drowned me, and I lacked the energy to fight it.

After receiving rejections from companies that in truth were far beyond my level of skill, I turned to my director and ballet mistress.  In March 2015, they were meeting with all company members to renew contracts and dole out promotions.  I was embarrassed to tell them my audition efforts resulted in nothing and I was at a complete loss of where to go. But I had no choice but to tell them I needed a change.

In the past, I always said I wouldn’t go to college for dance.  It seemed unprofessional to me, and I thought serious dancers should join companies straight out of high school if they wanted to have a career.  So when my ballet mistress suggested the University of Oklahoma’s school of dance, I would have written her off if I hadn’t been so desperate for a new opportunity.

Somehow in that moment — when she mentioned her sister worked as the director of OU’s school of dance, and that it was ranked top third in the nation for college dance programs — I knew that was where I was going to end up.  I had missed the audition deadlines at all the other universities I had been uninterestedly looking at for dance.  This felt like my last shot at moving forward with my life.

I frantically applied and sent in a video audition to the dance program.

It was seven months since the Houston Ballet audition.  I stepped foot on campus for the first time a couple days before school started in August. As my parents left after moving me in, I wondered if I had just made a huge mistake coming to a school I barely knew anything about. In the coming weeks, I wrestled with my decision. Anxiety and depression were often my only friends, and sometimes I began to cope through starving myself again.

I began to love the school but also felt the sting of loneliness. Over time, that sting slowly went away.  I found family away from home who made life seem worth the struggle. I found a renewed passion for dance I never would’ve found back home.

Not everything was easy or fun or straight forward, but the struggle was worth it.

As a senior, I find myself recounting how I even got here in the first place. My life looks so different than I thought it would in 2015.  I learned a great deal about myself through the ups and downs.  Now, I have to prepare for my next step of life: Auditioning for professional ballet companies all over again. Self-doubt, fear and uncertainty seem to be creeping back into my life.

The pool of confusion awaits my return.

 

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