Updated: Jan 19, 2019
When I was three years old, I came home from day care and informed my mother that I was going to become a ballerina. She signed me up for classes at Santa Clarita Ballet Academy that very same week; it became my second home for the next 14 years.
Santa Clarita Ballet Academy and Company resides at 26798 Oak Avenue, Canyon Country, California, 91351. While I was a student, the studios occupied three of the six addresses of the industrial building on the righthand side of the road. None of the three were next to another, so company members were often seen sprinting down the block in pointe shoes and baggy shirts thrown over leotards and tights. Ms. Corinne insisted that we remove our shoes, don proper clothing and footwear, and walk calmly down the street in the nonexistent time between classes, but we rarely listened. Summers meant lounging on the steps in front of the studios swapping lunches or ordering pizza, winters were soundtracked by Tchaikovsky, of course, and all the days in between were a blur of laughter, tears, and sweat. The street was always lined with cars, most adorned with the official company decal on their rear windshields. You always knew when a company member got her license; her family car would move from the curb out front to the hidden lot behind the main offices, taking whichever parking spot had most recently been vacated by a graduated member. When I was younger, the lot was always full.
As I grew older, the number of girls attending class dropped from twenty, to ten, to five. The lobby echoed with the promises of girls long gone, “I want to dance for the rest of my life.” When I graduated in the spring of 2015, I was beyond certain that my life would continue into perpetuity as it had for the past decade: my success in school driving my success in ballet and vice versa. It was unfathomable that a life existed outside the four walls of a ballet studio. I've never felt more at home than I have on a stage; blinded by lights and deafened by an orchestral score punctuated by my percussive breathing. I don't remember my favorite performances - not because they weren't memorable, but because I always did best when I lost myself to the movement. Ballet was so intertwined with every fiber of my being that I no longer knew how to answer the question "and what do you do?" without the prefix "I'm a ballerina and - ". Somehow, whatever followed seemed so much less impressive, shone so much less brightly, when it stood alone.
I've spent much of the last few months struggling for breath. I felt suffocated, smothered by the crippling fear of growing up that comes with an accelerated countdown to adulthood. By early September, the claustrophobia had grown so intense as to fracture the parts of me I never thought would break. My favorite books sat unopened on my bookshelf, I lost my traditionally enormous appetite, and my dance bag began to collect dust in the back of my closet. Most mornings I'd wake up early enough to go to the studio if I wanted to, but instead lied in bed for hours, paralyzed by anxiety that no amount of to-do lists or sleepless nights could erase.
I remember very clearly the morning I remembered how to breathe.
My roommate's breathing mixed with the soft rain outside. Thoughts tumbled in my head in time with raindrops on the window panes, an aggravating track just loud enough to keep unconsciousness at bay. Sheets gave way to carpeted flooring that muffled my footsteps while I wandered the house, wondering which would come first: daylight or sleep. I found myself on the roof, and the air almost vibrated with silence. The rain had finally stopped and dawn was about to break. My beloved city glittered with dew, smelled of beginnings, and seemed to be inhaling deeply for the last time before it awoke. As the sun stretched his fingers over the misty Berkeley hills, Ben Howard's "Only Love" began to play on Spotify. For the first time in months, I danced. The song ended. Silence resumed. Like the cliché I am, I cried. The sun finally rose.
I'm incapable of passively listening to music. Melodies course through me like electrons down a wire, setting my nerves alight with an irrepressible need to move. I choreograph on my walks to class, tap my foot waiting for crosswalks, and waltz from one end of the hall to the other. Leaving the studio did nothing to stifle that part of me; if anything, it merely reminded me how keenly that fire doth burn. My hiatus was a lot like that torturous November night, that seemingly infinite stretch of silence - which means it, too, will end. All I have to do is wait for the music to begin again.