by Amber Shriver, Patel Conservatory ballet intensive student and intern
Part of my job as an RA is to be a role model and mentor to my residents. While it is hard for any person to spend five weeks away from home, it's especially hard for dancers because they are required to deal with the normal feelings of homesickness as well as the pressures of ballet without their normal support system.
One of my roles at the Patel Conservatory this summer is to be that support system for the dancers under my supervision. As I reply to their questions and help them as they think about their futures, I am reminded of my own questions, disappointments and doubts. When someone asks me if I think they should continue to dance, all I can tell them is this: figure out the reason why you dance, and then decide for yourself if it is worth it.
The gift of hope and beauty
So this week, I have been considering my own feelings about dance, and I have been trying to put into words just what it is that makes me get up every morning and go to class. So why do I dance?
I dance because my parents no longer let me listen to classical music while driving because I become so absorbed in watching the music in my head that I almost wreck the car. I dance because not being able to land double pirouettes or a poor audition is the worst and most dramatic part of my life. And I dance because I have discovered over the years that true drama is people dying in Japan, or starving kids in India, not a bad class or a bad audition - those things are a privilege which I am lucky enough to experience every day. I dance because when I have a good class or a good audition, it is the best feeling in the entire world. I dance because when my feet touch a stage and music comes on, I know that it’s absolutely where I belong.
But I dance for reasons that are more profound than that as well. I dance because I am honored to be one of the few people in this world who can pass on the gift of hope and beauty to others. I dance so that in spite of every bad news story, every murder and every war, my audience can be reminded that the world is still a good place and there is still hope. I dance because God gave me a gift, and it would be horrible not to use it. And mostly, I dance because I have to. It’s what I have to give back to the world, and although I have considered giving it up and going into another field, I really couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
The work is its own reward
Both my parents graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. They tell me stories about the competitive atmosphere there, about how on their first day they were told that only 1 out of 3 students would make it to graduation, and about how they were forced to work harder than they thought possible while they were students there.
The motto of Carnegie Mellon is “My heart is in the work.” The philosophy behind the motto is that the world is a competitive place, but if you apply yourself, give your very best, love what you are doing and work harder than anybody else you will succeed, regardless of your natural talent. But most importantly, the philosophy is that the work is its own reward, not the success that may or may not come from it. And so I dance because nothing makes me happier than when the music comes on and it’s time for pliés. And I dance because when I touch the barre every morning, I feel at home.