Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Confident Post-- Revisiting Paquita

Definition of confidence (n)
1. Belief in own abilities: self-assurance or a belief in your ability to succeed

There it is boys and girls.  Webster's definition of CONFIDENCE.  It's empowering just reading it, isn't it?  For some people confidence comes easy and for others it does not.  I am a confident person, but I have definitely had my bouts with confidence as a professional ballerina.  Did you happen to catch what I was just saying there?  I wrote, "I am a confident PERSON, but I have definitely had my bouts with confidence as a PROFESSIONAL BALLERINA."  It should be one in the same, but I've learned the hard way that sometimes as a performer it's not that easy.  Here's to revisiting Paquita and what I've learned from falling on my face in front of America.
I always say 99% of being a ballerina is mind over matter and I really mean it.  We train hours upon hours for years of our lives to gain the technique and strength.  Somewhere in our computer of a brain is the hardware to get the job done.  When I joined Ballet West in 2007 I was confident in myself and was ready to work as hard as I could to get roles that I desired.  Even when I was not chosen for a role, or when I understudied everything for two entire years, I never wavered in thinking that it was only temporary and I was going to get my chance one day.  Once Paquita rolled around I had already been given quite a few amazing opportunities and had been promoted to Demi-Soloist at Ballet West.  I was also cast to dance the Principal role in George Balanchine's Emeralds and the 5th Duet in Yiri Kylian's Petite Mort.  What more could a girl ask for?  Before Paquita was cast I had learned the first, second and fourth Soloist variations.  Although they were technically challenging, I was able to do all three.  I thought that I had proven that I could do them and I'd love the chance to dance Paquita on stage, but if I didn't get cast I wouldn't be upset because I was doing so much already and was thankful.  During a run of the variations Adam Sklute (BW's Artistic Director) called me over and said that I was cast to do Paquita!  He then proceeded to tell me that he would like to see me in the third variation.  I thought I heard him wrong.  I hadn't been asked to learn the third variation and in my mind it was for a short girl who was cute and could move fast.  He said something to the regards of, "You could do the other three, so I'm assuming you can do this one, too."  I remember my stomach sinking.  It was never a role that I had envisioned myself doing well and it definitely didn't fit my personality, in my eyes.  It was such a strange place to be in.  Usually, as a dancer, if you don't get an opportunity you spend so much time trying to prove to your boss that you can do it, but here I was getting all the confidence in the world from my boss and was trying to prove to myself that he was right. 
I'm always watching other people's rehearsals and learn their steps even when sitting on the floor.  I wanted to be in every rehearsal with Elena Kunikova because I wanted to learn as much from her as I possibly could during Paquita.  She asked me to run the 3rd variation even though she hadn't taught it to me and I said I could because I learned it from watching.  Then, she asked me to join the other Soloists and Corps in the opening dance and in rushed the Breaking Pointe cameras.  They were literally up my nose!  I was new, never learned that spot, and they recorded me messing up every two seconds.  Remember the episode where Elena was stopping me every two seconds? I all of a sudden felt a pressure to succeed like I had never felt before.  There was Adam telling me he could depend on me even though I was feeling so unconfident. To top it off, it was all transpiring in front of the world (literally).  All I can remember is falling down a downward spiral.  I would be on cloud nine running Emeralds and Petite Mort and then wanted to be sick putting on a tutu to run Paquita.  I got in my head.  I'd mess something up and let it bring me down to the point of tears.  Even if it went well, it wasn't good enough for me. 
Opening night I was nervous and had to talk to myself to calm down before the curtain went up.  I remember the opening dance feeling great and I thought, "Ok! I'm going to do to this!"  My family was in the audience for support.  I came out for my variation and the music started....the rest is, well, on Season 1 Episode 5 of Breaking Pointe.  A MESS.  It was an out of body experience and I couldn't wait to get off stage.  I remember barely trying to muster up a smile during my bow.  I had to suck it up because we had an entire finale to dance and I couldn't blow that, too.  After that night I spent a year struggling with my confidence.  I fell on my face (figuratively and literally) a few times after that night, too.  What was happening to me?  I had to re-evaluate my approach to working in the studio and rebuild my confidence that had been drained.  This past summer, I taught a lot and traveled a lot.  I took those opportunities to dance in as many different places as I could.  I spent two weeks taking open classes at Alonso King's Lines in San Francisco and that was when a lot in my mind began to change.  I was dancing because I loved it and loved to work hard.  I was doing things I thought I couldn't do in those classes.  Pushing myself to not be afraid of falling on my face, but learning to fall with grace, because sometime kids, you're going to fall on your face! Sometimes when you mess up something on stage it feels like it lasts a lifetime.  I went back and watched videos of when I royally messed up on stage.  The mess up moment was quick, but what lingered was my demeanor after the mess up.  This past year I learned how to be a performer through my mistakes.  I had to accept that sometimes things are not going to go well on stage, and although my bosses and peers may notice those technical fouls the audience is focused on my artistry.  I try to control a lot of things, so messing up really isn't something I handle well, but I had to learn to.  The lifetime on stage as professional dancers isn't very long and if you spend all your time dwelling on the bad then you will miss all the wonderful opportunities and experiences.  I'm thankful for sharing my hardships with everyone who watched Breaking Pointe because I hope that some young dancers learn that you may fall down but you won't stay there.  I also learned not to type cast myself because there are already enough limitations in our little artsy world, so why apply more to yourself?  Accept any role as a chance to grow as a technician but more importantly as an artist.  I hope I get to do Paquita again in my life, because I can't wait to kick its butt!!! 



  1. hi allison!!! i love your blog so i wanted to ask for advice.... I recently started ballet and I need advice on how to get more andeur??? I hope you understand what I´m trying to say... in other words I lack of knees pointing to the sides..... thanks for your help!!! mail:

  2. Hi Allison. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences through this great blog. I just wanted to say that you are an incredible dancer! Your beauty and grace under pressure are so inspiring. Wishing you much continued success in your career.

  3. Hi Allison! Your blog is great and I love reading it! I wanted to ask for some advice though. I started doing ballet and dancing when I was 3. I loved it and I have been dancing ever since. But around the time I was about 10 or 11 years old, I quit ballet and continued with my other dancing but not as much as I was before. This led to me losing a lot of my flexibility. I am currently 16 years old and doing a lot of dancing now and trying to gain my flexibility back. But it's not going very well. When I have asked people about how they got so flexible they just said they stretched a lot and that's what I've been trying to do, but it's not working for me. So is there something else I maybe should try or should I just keep trying with the stretching a lot and maybe try to do that a little more? What do you think? Thank you for your help!

  4. Allison,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with confidence. I struggled to find my personal voice as a musician for years. Despite changing my profession to music education, I still have days where I ask myself "what am I doing up here?!" Anyway, it's so important for us to show our human imperfections, especially as professionals. Many of my students have the impression that professional artists must be robots and spit out a beautiful performance every time. I hope that our baby ballerinas and baby musicians learn that it is a process. ---Maria D.