10 Things I Wish I Could Say to My Teenage Self

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Adult ballet dancer performs an arabesque pose from the ballet Giselle.
Photo above by L.M. Sorenson

Do you ever wonder what you would say to your teenage self if you could go back in time? I do...

Now that I'm in my thirties, I feel acutely aware of the passage of time, and I have been reflecting on my experience with ballet.

I took my first ballet class when I was fifteen, and I've been obsessed with the art form ever since.

It’s hard to believe that ballet has been with me for more than half of my life, because I still feel like a beginner in so many ways.

Sometimes I look back on my fifteen-year-old self — awkward, insecure, searching everywhere for beauty, meaning, and purpose — and I wish I could tell her a few things about her future in ballet.

I wish I could give her some of the reassurance she needed.

Here’s what I would say to my teenage self, if I could...

#1) It’s okay that you don’t have a “ballet body.” Most people don’t.

And the “ballet body” is a myth, anyway.

Certain body ideals have been perpetuated by certain people throughout certain times in history, but those ideals are subjective, arbitrary, and change with time.

One truth remains: the only ballet body is a body doing ballet.

So, please, don’t beat yourself up because you feel like your body is “all wrong.”

Your body isn’t all wrong, I promise. Your body is the right body for you, and you are allowed to accept it — maybe even love it! 

#2) You are allowed to accept your body just as it is.

Even if your body isn’t “perfect,” it is perfectly wonderful for ballet just as it is, right now, in this moment.

You’ve hear from several sources that ballet dancers can’t be curvy, but I want you to know: your curves don’t break your lines. I repeat: Your curves do not break your lines. 

The idea that curvy bodies cannot make ballet lines is an opinion, and eventually, you’ll learn that other people's opinions aren't that important. 

The most important opinion of you is your own — so, what do you think of you?

What do you think of your lines?

You already know you can make classical lines.

You've seen your arabesque in the mirror!

You are allowed to love your arabesque.

You are allowed to believe in yourself as a classical dancer.

I want you, and every dancer to know: you can look and feel beautiful while doing ballet at any shape or size.

Because beauty in ballet comes from skillful technique and expressive artistry.

With the right training, you can improve your technique, and by spending quiet moments alone with your thoughts — by connecting to your inner-self — you can expand your artistry.

One day, you’ll get to the heart of your core values and realize that you don’t need to be thin to be happy or worthy.

You’ll learn to be thankful for your body, even on the days when you don’t love what it looks like.

You’ll begin the process of making peace with your body, and it’s going to change your life in the best way.

#3) You WILL get your pointe shoes one day. Stop worrying about it! It’s going to happen.

You won’t always be mystified by pointe shoes. Your achy obsession with pointe will ease into comfortable familiarity, and pointe will quickly become a normal part of your life.

Your journey to pointe won’t be traditional, by any means, but you will arrive.

You’ll find instructors willing to teach you pointe.

As for dancing en pointe?

You are going to love it. Occasionally, you are going to hate it. But mostly, you will love it.

You’ll sew shoes, break in shoes, and dance en pointe like it’s no big deal.

Soon enough, you'll have a pile of dead shoes with platforms ripped to shreds — you’ll look at that pile and feel proud of all the dancing you did.

Your time is coming.

#4) Not only will you finally get your pointe shoes, you’ll also learn variations.

Yes, you’ll learn variations.

You won’t wistfully watch the same YouTube clips over and over again for the rest of your life.

Okay, truth be told, you’ll still obsessively watch variations on YouTube, but you’re going to dance them, too.

You’ll use your time learning variations to explore what comes most naturally to you in ballet: expressing yourself creatively through dance.

#5) You are allowed to choose ballet and make it an important part of your life.

I know you don’t feel confident enough to pursue ballet with the intensity that you crave, but one day you will have an awakening...

You’ll discover that you and you alone can choose the role that ballet takes in your life — that you don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval or permission.

You’ll slowly start to do as much ballet as you want. You’ll dance in your house! You’ll dance at the park! You’ll take as many classes as possible!

Sometimes life will get in the way, and you won’t be able to dance as much as you’d like. Your progress as a dancer will ebb and flow, often feeling like one step forward and two steps back.

But more than anything, I want you to know this: you are allowed to feel good about yourself and the progress you make in ballet.

Give yourself permission to be proud of both the dancer you already are and the one you are becoming.

#6) Once you start a family, you are allowed to keep making ballet a priority.

Even as your life expands, even once you have children and a family of your own, you are allowed to continue to make ballet a priority.

Your ballet dreams matter, because you matter.

Your family loves you, and they don’t want you to lose your sense of self.

Furthermore, you can show up for others with more love and grace when your soul feels enriched and fed, when your mind is clear and content, when you are pursuing your heart’s calling in addition to caring for the needs of those you love.

Dancing ballet is, for you, an act of self-love and self-care that helps you become a better person to everyone in your life.

#7) You aren’t going to be a professional dancer, but that’s okay.

You will have a rich, full, wonderful ballet life without it becoming your profession.

Truthfully, very few people become professional ballet dancers. You already know this, but part of you is still wondering: if ballet can’t be my whole life, then why bother?

You may not gain the experience or the training necessary to become a professional, but ballet is still for you.

Ballet is still your calling.

And your dancing can make the world a more beautiful place.

Because the beauty of ballet doesn’t come from being an Olympic level athlete. Instead, it comes things you can achieve — that wonderful combination of technique and artistry, which includes:

  • Correct placement
  • Correct muscle engagement
  • Creative expression
  • Musicality
  • Storytelling

These are things that, with hard work and focus, you can apply to your dancing. Not perfectly by any means.

Nothing is ever perfect, of course. But, the fact is…

You can dance ballet skillfully and beautifully without dancing at a professional level.

#8) You are going to attend a summer intensive.

One day, there are going to be summer intensives for adults. You are going to attend one, and it’s going to change your life in the best way. You'll see other adults working hard at ballet and achieving big goals, like double pirouettes en pointe, and you'll feel like anything is possible.

You’ll come home inspired and energized and ready to dedicate your life to dancing as often as you possibly can, simply because you know, without a doubt, that dancing is what makes your soul sing.

#9) One day you’ll hold onto ballet tight and never let go of it.

Ballet may not become your profession, but it will be an important part of your life.

I know once you realized you wouldn't be a professional dancer, you spent a lot of time grappling with your love of ballet, trying to convince yourself that doing ballet as a hobby was too silly and too frivolous and that you needed to just move on. You kept thinking...

I need to pour my time and energy into something more practical.

I can just be a fan, a balletomane. I don’t have to be a dancer.

I can let this go.

But thankfully, you never quite let go. You stopped and started, more than once, but you never stopped loving ballet, and eventually, you chose to hold on tight.

And I can tell you this with utmost certainty:

Your love of ballet won’t always be so complicated.

One day it will feel simple. You’ll love ballet with ease.

One day you’ll meet lots of people like you — people who aren’t professional dancers but who are dedicated to dancing ballet the very best they can, simply because they love it and it makes them happy.

You are not as alone as you feel right now.

#10) You were born to dance.

One day, you'll accept yourself and your dancing and you'll find peace within your own unique role in the ballet world.

Yes, even if you don’t always feel like it, you are part of the ballet world.

You’ll no longer feel silly or ashamed of how obsessed you are with dancing ballet.

One day you’ll realize, deep in your core, what you always knew: that ballet is your calling and you were born to dance.