“As always, college graduation means opportunity. And, ultimately, my decisions at the time meant more than ever. However, this special block of time gave me the choice to do what I’ve always felt deserved the most attention: dancing. As I was graduating from college I was applying to both PR jobs and ballet companies. I had no idea what I would be doing the year following my graduation but I had hoped I would be dancing.
For the past 4.5 years I had been at Ohio University studying public relations in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Some years rated the number one party school in the nation, OU was nothing short of meaningful experiences. On top of studying, these years were spent socializing, partying and festing. Tucked in the foothills of southern Ohio, OU was an oasis for college kids looking for a good time. OU has one of the best journalism schools in the country. Although dancing remained a part of my life, it was never enough to satisfy what I loved.
Some girls I trained with in high school had gone on to join ballet companies and I frequently questioned my choice to go to college. I wondered what I would be doing if I had tried to join a company when I was 18, if I would have made it in the dance world, what company I would have joined. My mind was restless and would occasionally make me sad to think that I had quit what made me most happy. Once during a weekly Public Relations Student Society of America meeting, the speaker was giving the seniors tips about getting a job. I left teary eyed in the middle of the meeting because listening to this professor give us a speech about job hunting was like saying the last goodbye to any dream of dancing in a ballet company.
So why not at least try?
Trying and failing would have been much better than not trying at all. Although not everyone agreed with me. I remember running the idea of joining a ballet company past another student I worked with at my college newspaper. “Does that idea sound logical, Susan?” No, it didn’t. But I was going to try it anyway.
Four months after my graduation I found myself auditioning for my first ballet company. I’m going to go ahead and say the audition went absolutely horribly, as I expected it would. This was one of the first times in five years that I had put pointe shoes on. I could do nothing but laugh it off and keep going. I had gotten together a homemade audition video, a resume and some audition photos that a photography major from OU took for me and sent these materials to any ballet company I could think of. I also auditioned for a well-known graduate program affiliated with a professional ballet company. In the meeting with the director after the audition she listed some good qualities of my dancing but ended with, “I’m sorry, I know this must be really hard to hear but … (long pause) I just think you’re too old to start a dancing career.” I sometimes consider writing that woman a thank-you email because any person that told me I couldn’t just made me want to try harder.
I attended a 4-week summer session to get back in shape. Dancing every day was wonderful, but there was so much I had been able to do years ago that my body couldn’t or wouldn’t do anymore. I had lost flexibility and precision in my dancing. My body felt constantly sore but what was the worst was the muscles in my feet always felt cramped because I had taken such a long break from pointe shoes. I would massage them daily but to some extent it felt like I was starting on pointe when I was 12 years old again. The skin on my toes had also become soft so I had to go through the process of my feet toughening up again from blisters. One of my big toenails became bruised and eventually fell off, but for a few months before it felt off it was really painful to dance in pointe shoes because of the pressure it would put on the toenail. I also found out when I started buying pointe shoes that Bloch had stopped making the kind I wore in high school, so I had to once again find a shoe that felt good for me.
The same summer, I lived in San Diego for a month. I had been a lot of places all over the U.S. for either college internships or vacation, but no place compared to what I found in San Diego. Everything was different from Ohio: the culture, the way people sprinkled their language with “gnarly” and “stoked,” seeing surfboards at every home I visited, palm trees, the easy-going lifestyle, the beach, the cliffs, the adventurous nature of the friends I made, the way people dressed and, of course, the constantly beautiful weather. So my goal of “I want to be a ballet dancer” became “I want to be a ballet dancer in San Diego.”
After a very long adventure of trying to make a break into the ballet world, I finally got an opportunity with a company in Virginia. “We’d like to offer you an apprenticeship” was followed by me excitedly calling my dad and probably, for the moment, being the happiest person in the world. I was elated to be dancing again, but looking back on the past year I felt like I had given up a lot to make it happen. I had gotten a job as a copy editor at a newspaper that I didn’t take, somewhere along the line I lost the only person I had ever been in love with because my only focus was ballet and I had moved away from my family, among other things. Although I adjusted to the changes in my life and liked dancing for a professional company, I frequently thought about moving to San Diego. So when audition months rolled around I auditioned for San Diego Ballet. I was surprised when I got an email saying that I had been accepted; it didn’t feel real.
From painfully missing ballet in college to getting an email telling me I had gotten into San Diego Ballet, it feels like it took forever to get here. Every downfall, though, was worth the effort. I had felt so trapped down the path of graduating, getting a 9-5 job, getting married and having kids. It still feels like a dream that I’m living in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen and dancing with such an amazing ballet company. When I’m an old woman telling my grandkids about my life I think “I danced with San Diego Ballet” will be one of the proudest things I tell them.”
Susan H Trainee