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OUR STORIES

2016TBTT-2

Michelle & Elander, Company Dancers

February 22, 2016 12:30pm

There are many ways that people access dance these days, from TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” to live performances at Lincoln Center. But a lot of them (audiences) only accept what they are seeing as nothing more than a beautiful phenomenon happening before their eyes, when there is so much more to it than that. There were hundreds of bad fouettes before those 32 beautiful ones. There’s an extremely intricate and unique process of preparation for every single pointe shoe. Yes, as dancers, it is important that we look great on stage, but it is also important that we simultaneously convey our perseverance, our power, and our passion. It is important that we make our audience look beyond the beauty of our bodies as we move through space, and see into our very own souls.  —Elander Rosser

Perfect. Angelic. Elegant. Beautiful. These are the typical words used to describe ballet dancers and the art they create. The style has its roots in showcasing nothing but beauty and perfection. As dancers, the goal becomes about creating an ethereal lightness to movement and finding the ever-elusive “perfect line” that takes us above and out of the everyday world. To achieve this, the style has striven to always create movement, patterns, and even bodies that are considered most pleasing to the eyes of the audience. Unfortunately, this oftentimes has meant limiting ourselves to one kind of beauty. With our ever-changing society and growing diversity, to many individuals ballet is now described in other ways: archaic, limited, and unapproachable.
To me, “see beyond beautiful” is a call to all dancers, choreographers, teachers, etc. to challenge some of the limitations ballet has created. It’s time for ballerinas to be defined more by the performance they can give than by the shape of their foot or the height of their leg. It’s time we make ballet relevant to our world again instead of solely to a particular body type or socioeconomic group. Art is designed to be a reflection upon society and we live in a world far different than that upon which ballet was founded. The ballerina herself has changed over the years in both body and mind. If we can embrace that concept, then we have created a whole new world of possibilities.  —Michelle Ludwig

 

 

February 22, 2016 6:30pm

Over the last nine years I have experienced many health challenges. Growing up, I was a very happy and healthy child, but everything changed when I was thirteen. All of a sudden I started having digestive problems, severe stomach pains, weight gain, and headaches. After a few years and several doctors, I decided to try a natural approach. I found out that I was having food reactions. When I cut out my trigger foods, my symptoms lessened (but never went away) and I started losing weight. Unfortunately, it never stopped.

I hear comments all of the time about how skinny I am and how I just need to eat more. The problem is that I keep developing reactions to more and more foods. Maintaining my health through my nutrition is complicated. I’m constantly modifying my meals to maintain my overall health. When I was thirteen, I didn’t like looking in the mirror because I thought I was heavy. I still don’t like looking in the mirror, but now it’s for the opposite reason. I try to wear clothes that cover my upper body so people can’t see how bony I am. The mirror just reminds me of how other people see me. Most of them have a sincere concern for my wellbeing, but there is still a sting of criticism in their comments.

I don’t always feel very beautiful, but I try to keep in mind that what I look like doesn’t ultimately matter. Society has this idea that to be beautiful you must fit a perfect mold. You must have a nice figure, defined features, and perfect hair. These attributes are beautiful, but they don’t define true beauty. True beauty comes from the radiance of being content with who you are and where you are in your life. My life is far from perfect, but I get to spend every day with the people I love and doing what I love. When I keep this in mind and am content, I truly do feel beautiful.
— Leta Triebold, Company Apprentice

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016TBTT-5

Jacqueline McDaniel, Company Dancer

 

February 23, 2016 12:30pm

“Beauty is limitless. It cannot be defined or contained. As humans we often try to label what is appealing to the eye as beautiful. Yet in reality this perspective often is molded by the culture and influences around you. When you put aside your preconceived notions beauty can be found in everything and everyone around you. Looking beyond beauty is liberating. It allows you to look at the world through a new set of eyes.”  —Jacqueline McDaniel, Company Dancer

 

2016TBTT-11

Anna Roehr, Company Dancer

February 23, 2016 6:30pm

I have always loved beautiful things. Anything that sparkles, lace and jewel-toned clothes, pretty shoes, bows and bedazzled barrettes for my hair – the list is long. This is what drew me to the world of ballet. In my 7-year old mind, an activity that required me to perform in a tutu and tiara couldn’t have been more perfect. As I grew older, those beautiful things were still plentiful, but they brought with them the anxiety about whether or not my body was the right size or shape, nagging thoughts every time I ate something that I didn’t consider healthy, blistered feet, aching muscles, and harsh comments from teachers that I still remember vividly. Being a ballet dancer came with an ugly side. The negatives occasionally brought tears after I went to bed, but didn’t wash away the feeling of performing a perfect triple pirouette or the freedom of flying in a grandè allegro combination.

Up until two years ago, I had spent the majority of my life in a studio or on a stage. I spent a year teaching and working, or taking a technique class when I could squeeze it in. I missed dancing in a way that is difficult to describe. I felt less alive. Growing up, I was constantly frustrated about missing “every day things” because of a class or a rehearsal. But I soon realized that they paled in comparison to the minutes I spent on a stage doing what made me the absolute happiest.

After receiving a company spot with St. Paul Ballet in September 2014, my life returned to what had always been normal: hours of technique classes and rehearsals, costume fittings and tech weeks. I have never been more grateful to be a ballet dancer. When I push my tired feet into shiny satin pointe shoes, put my hair into a tight bun, and try to ignore the scratch of tulle as I’m hooked into a tutu, I feel my heart get a little happier and everything else fades. I will always love the ornate costumes and glittering tiaras, but the true beauty of being a ballerina has transformed into the chills that I get when I stand on a stage. Now it is feeling the heat from the lights and the stares from the seats. It’s the burn in my lungs when I take a bow and my ability to still surprise myself in conquering a seemingly unconquerable piece. Ballet is much deeper than pretty tutus or beautiful legs and feet, and it goes beyond the rows of perfect, identical dancers in a corps de ballet. It is the challenge, release and joy that comes from moving, all of which exceed what someone might imagine a ballerina to be, and that is beyond beautiful to me.  —Anna Roehr, Company Dancer

 

2016TBTT-3

Jarod Boltjes, Company Dancer

 

February 24, 2016 12:30pm

“Dance has been a larger part of my life and as beautiful as dance is, seeing beyond ballet or seeing past the beauty of ballet has not always been an easy step for those who are close to me. In a culture surrounded by labels, I can relate with being petite, quiet, and gay. Petite and quiet have been worn on my sleeves as long as I can remember. Relating to the Gay community is still fresh. In fact, this marks my first encounter of publicly being open about the subject. “Only you need to know what you’re feeling,” is what my mother said during my coming out talk with her. That day marked the start of my beauty being defined as self, and not by a label.

Yes, I am petite, quiet, and gay but I am also strong, communicative, and a dancer. My petite stature has lead to the common phrases: are you healthy, eating enough, and well nourished? Without proper nutrition, I wouldn’t be strong enough to press my dance partner above my head safely. I am a man of few words but once I speak up, the words are simple and efficient. Being gay doesn’t need to be a label, but rather its original meaning that I am happy… which for me is beyond beautiful.” —Jarod Boltjes, Company Dancer

 

2016TBTT-10

Amy Trayers, Company Apprentice

 

February 24, 2016 6:30pm

When I was 14 years old, I told one of my closest friends that I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Her response was, “Really? Are you sure? You’re way too pretty to be depressed.”

Seeing beyond beautiful to me means to look beyond what the human eye perceives. The eye can pick up on the smallest of details, whether a piece of hair, a freckle, or a scar. However, every person has a story that is impossible to be perceived simply by the human senses. These stories of hardship, victories, courage, kindness, and failure are all interlaced together to create one unique individual. Without these stories, we would never learn from our mistakes and successes, and we would never become stronger.

This strength that results from being able to stand up again after choosing to face whatever obstacle life throws in our path is what creates beauty. Seeing beyond beautiful means that my beauty is not defined by society’s expectations of my physical appearance, but by the story that I tell through my dancing, fighting my mental illness, and living true to myself.” —Amy Trayers, Company Apprentice

 

2016TBTT-8

Zoé Henrot, Artistic Director and Company Dancer

February 25, 2016 6:30pm

The process of learning a new work as a dancer is both a chaotic and beautiful experience. The first day starts with a lot of ideas. Some ideas are tossed off the table immediately, others are explored further and manipulated. New material is repeated with slight differences in patterns over and over again. Near the end of the day you feel your muscles give out, marley burns on the top of your feet start to sting, and your head becomes heavy, swimming with new information. As you leave the studio you start to plan your post rehearsal therapies: a hot Epsom salt bath, a session of foam rolling, and a glass of coconut water to rehydrate your body. The next morning brings immediate attention to a million sore muscles you didn’t even know existed as you slowly slide on a fresh leotard and shuffle your way into a snug pair of tights. The idea of moving even your little toe feels impossible, but you somehow make your way back into the studio. Every day continues like this and slowly the movement begins to feel a little bit more familiar, organic, even beautiful. Finally you find yourself waiting in the wings as the curtain rises on opening night. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins as you pounce on stage with a powerful leap. The leap that once felt so impossible is no longer foreign to your body; the muscles that used to scream now respond with ease and energy. Beauty. This is what the audience sees in that moment underneath the lights on the stage. But you know there is even greater beauty in what the audience cannot see. In fact, the greatest beauty is in the journey of going beyond what you once thought was impossible.  — Zoé Henrot, Artistic Director and Company Dancer

2016TBTT-4

Preston Stockert and Nicole Brown, Company Dancers

February 25, 2016 12:30pm

There’s an amazing thing that happens when one looks past the limitations placed upon them. They find something new, something organic; something unscripted. For me personally, to see beyond beautiful means so much more than what it simply insinuates. It involves the good, the bad, the ugly, and combines them into something unmistakably individualistic yet complimentary. In order for me to see beyond beautiful, I have to see the whole, unapologetic picture. Within that picture lies a reflection of everything, yet something so simple. You are beautiful. I am beautiful. We are all beautiful. In order to find that, my intentions are to go beyond the boundaries set, and to bring everything I know I have as a human being right to the forefront. Raw, unapologetic honesty. That is my beauty.  — Preston Stockert, Company Dancer

Seeing beyond beautiful is seeing more than what’s physically there. Our society’s idea of perfection doesn’t define a real statement of beauty, and the mirror’s reflection reveals only the thinnest layer of beauty that lies with each of us. Our physical appearance is deceiving. Real beauty is intangible. It comes with the acceptance of your entire being, and an honest relationship with yourself. You must be a team with the struggle and conflict that lies inside. Find your inner peace. Learn to accept, forgive and love who you really are. Achieving trust with yourself is key to seeing beyond beautiful.  —Nicole Brown, Company Dancer

 

Hannah Benditt, Company Apprentice

 

February 26, 2016 12:30pm

Growing up, beauty was always a reflection. A superficial, two-dimensional image of what, at the time, I believed would bring me ultimate happiness: acceptance, success and security. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. What I found was that reflections can be very tricky things and what we give power to will have power over us. At best, reflections are warped representations of who we are, at worst, they are the fastest way to drain our gifts as individuals and dancers. Over the years, I adopted behaviors of negativity and “tough love,” disguised (to myself) as impeccable work ethic and passion, fueling my road to “happiness.” This lack of compassion towards myself along with unrealistic expectations and perfectionism produced interesting results: some successes but many failures, fleeting moments of joy shadowed by disappointment, fake friendships, a lot of injuries and so much “character building” that I was simply exhausted. Never satisfied with my work and on the verge of burnout, a great mentor reminded me that dance was so much deeper than beauty and perfection. Dance is communication. The extreme ideals of dance were irrelevant to the real duty of a dancer; resonating life through movement in the most authentic, efficient way possible. I began to realize my unique power wasn’t a reflection or an aesthetic. My gifts came from complete transparency. The result of life experiences, triumphs, failures, knowledge, opinion, compassion and much more. All things, beyond beautiful.  —Hannah Benditt, Company Apprentice

2016TBTT-7

Brittany Adams, Company Dancer

February 27, 2016 6:30pm

I have not always felt beautiful. There have been days I have felt like my body is not meant for ballet; days that I felt I don’t deserve my job. Even since starting “Take Back the Tutu” in 2014, it has crept into the back of my mind that I can’t be the voice of this campaign for positive body image, when I sometimes hate my body. It has caused me stress and anxiety. I have had trouble seeing how I could get to a point where I loved the way I looked. I have been so unsure of all of it, and so even though I chose this year’s theme as discussing how we “see beyond beautiful,” I almost felt like I couldn’t contribute; I’ve been having trouble seeing beauty in myself to begin with.
In the past year I have endured judgments and comments from others that have hurt my self-esteem. “You’ve been skinnier before, right?” Among other, less obvious comments.
I’ve also been dealing with overcoming a few injuries that have forced me to re-train the way I turn out and stand in daily class. I have had to adjust the way I have moved all my life in order to dance without pain. The recovery and re-training sometimes kept me from aspects of everyday class including adagio and allegro combinations for quite some time. During these gaps in dancing, I began to notice that the way I looked had changed. I wasn’t as in shape as a direct result of not being able to dance full out every day.
Through my injuries and recovery I experienced a lot of disappointment. But I’ve also learned how to move on. Now that I’m on the other side of the physical and mental pain, I realized that I always deserve to dance. It’s a natural freedom: we move in order to express ourselves. Every time I feel limited by my body I take a deep breath and remember what I am able to do. I can still express myself, even through my limitations. And every challenge I face with my body, I learn more about myself. What I am only beginning to love about dance is that you don’t just get to know yourself and your heart — you get to know your bones, your muscles, and your heartbeat.
I’ve realized and am proud of how smart a lifetime of dance has made me. I can memorize eight bars worth of movement and spit it back out in less than a minute. I can listen harder every moment in class and make improvements every day. I can also overcome harsh words. I can persevere. I deserve everything I have worked for.
In a way it’s been a time of reconciliation. I can be unhappy with my body and still dance. I can work at overcoming my injuries every day and still dance. I can feel too tired to start pliés and find the strength to still dance. I can hear harsh words and criticisms and still dance. So yes, I deserve to dance when I’m hurting, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m insecure, and even when I let other’s words make me feel like I have an ocean of improvement to cross before I’ll be good enough. We all do. Yes, there is beauty and healing in all of that. So I will begin first by seeing the “beyond” and then realizing the “beauty.”
I am allowed to dislike my body. But I refuse to let myself hate my body. I will not tell myself I will never be good enough. I do not get to tell myself that I can’t have bad days. Because my body, my work, and my life as a dancer do not deserve that from me.  —Brittany Adams, Company Dancer