And the value of the vole!

I was casually translating a petite allegro combination last week when I froze, utterly failing to remember the meaning of volé! (voh-LAY, as in brisé vole.) I’m a BIG nerd when it comes to ballet because I trained in the Cecchetti Method, an incredibly academic style of ballet known for its insane attention to detail. It was like an eight-year-long class of ballet as history, physics, and foreign language so, while far from fluent in French, our vocabulary rocks because we learned the literal translation for every single step. So you can see why drawing a blank on volé might bother a supernerd so much! I froze again a couple days later, this time possessed by the ballet gods/demons to belatedly define, loudly, and to no one in particular in a very quiet office, “VOLÉ: FLYING. FROM VOLER: TO FLY.” I knew that! But I forgot.

Obligatory ballet photo with The Bean! Chicago, IL

What else do ballet dancers forget? We forget to take a break! I think it’s because “taking a break” sounds lazy, even cowardly to such intense creatures, but I’m not talking about sleeping in or running away from responsibility. Taking a break isn’t about doing nothing, but about doing something new!

You have fun.

Ballet dancers work hard. We dance six days a week, most all of us juggling a full-time (or a few side) job(s) to pay bills and stuff that keep the dream alive. This doesn’t normally leave a real day to rest because the rare day off always fills up fast! Even ballerinas have to do laundry and attend appointments and run errands and catch up on sleep (or Netflix, but never ever both). Blink twice and it’s already 10pm and we’re worrying if we’re ready to return to our barre-battle stations tomorrow morning. Are you burning out? Give yourself more than one day away! Do something you don’t have to do, something totally irrelevant, for as long as you want, and just because you feel like it. Enjoy your agency!

You learn more about yourself.

Being in a new place/predicament can be so illuminating, if you allow it! It gives you the chance to challenge your own existence, to get to know yourself outside the daily grind. Normally drive everywhere? (I know you do, THIS IS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.) Try using public transit. Your usual streets set up like a checkerboard so it’s impossible to get lost? Take a whack at navigating winding, spiraling roads without your smartphone. Order the same drink at the same cafe around the same time every day? Go to where you’re not a regular and find the unfamiliar. How will you deal with strangers, language barriers, new rules, no rules, stress, freedom, the unknown, being alone? You won’t know until you put yourself in a position where you can see for yourself. Revving up your mind for this kind of learning is good for you, and great fun.

You never know what will happen.

I just came back from jolly old England, but no matter where you go you’ll get dizzy with how often Serendipity smiles. You just never know, y’know? Maybe you’ll get lucky, have coffee and a bubble (a laugh) with the bloke who plays Carabosse in your hero Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. Maybe you’ll bump into an actor you recognize from a few of your favorite TV shows (Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc) Danny Webb on the stairs, but he’ll apologize and wish you luck for your first company ballet class in London. Maybe you step into another class abroad and realize that the instructor here and your mentor back home danced together for Balanchine. Sometimes you split the lift (elevator) with Edward Watson from the Royal Ballet on his birthday. Maybe you won’t catch Drew Jacoby when you take company class with the Netherlands Dance Theater in the spring, but later that summer you’ll take a selfie with her after she picks you to perform her original choreography. Sometimes you spot a familiar shade of maroon across the room nearly 4,000 miles away from your alma mater and smile because that means two University of Chicago alumni walked into a the same room to read about Henry VIII (which sounds like the start of a solid joke). Sometimes busking guitarists play songs that remind you of home and perhaps the moment is so perfect it’s worth freezing your fingers a little while recording clips to share. Maybe you’ll connect the dots, make friends, miss trains, have fights, and perhaps people along the way will tell you you’re beautiful and brilliant and you’ll never want to leave and who knows but you gotta GET OUT THERE because there are some seriously magical moments to be had.

You come back refreshed, refocused, redefined.

You have to introduce yourself more often when you’re somewhere else, someplace new. Fact! Sometimes you fall into the regular rhythm of the first-date or first-day-at-school game and toss no-brainer, icebreaker questions back and forth, but sometimes strangers knock you right off balance. We get too comfortable on our own turf with our usual crowd, turning to automated responses to brush off big questions like, “What’s your real job?” (Well I’m glad you asked, Grandpa, because while I do ballet for the money my REAL passion lies in scanning and shredding paper at the office OOPS SECRET’S OUT). But when we’re meeting new people, we can’t help but want to make a good impression. What’s a hello but being able to say, “This is who I am. Who are you?” Every introduction gives us the chance to reflect, redefine, and hold ourselves accountable to the best version of ourselves. What is the hardest part of dancing? How would I classify my style? How is the dance scene different in the States? Can I see myself moving abroad? New places and people inspire us to speak more clearly, think more deeply, and make quiet decisions. This exercise is refreshing, relieving.

BACK TO BEING A BIG NERD REAL QUICK. I reread John Milton’s piece “On Time” the other night, like you do, which begins with the word “Fly.” The poet’s not telling Time to grow a pair of wings or get on an airplane – he just means GO. Taking a break doesn’t need to mean stamping your passport! We all dream of casual getaways to the Caribbean and faraway epiphanies found in Asia, but you don’t need to go far to get somewhere new. Emotionally or geographically, just take a break and do something different. GO. VOLÉ. FLY, MY PRETTIES.

It’s the off-season! Consider disrupting your routine. Surprise yourself. Escape. Explore. Go, because you’ll come back feeling more confident in yourself, more comfortable in your skin. Go, because you’ll actually come home feeling more at home.

Steffi Carter

San Diego Ballet, 3rd year Independent Contractor

Author of “Date a Girl Who Dances”