Why Ballet Has Made Me Smarter / by Alexandra Elle

 Photo by Francisco Estevez

Photo by Francisco Estevez

As most ballet dancers can attest, professional or not, ballet plays a pivotal role in shaping one’s identity, personality, and life path. Due to the rigorous and competitive nature of ballet, those who have pursued this path are often left hungry and ambitious for excellence. The entire culture of ballet perpetuates a desire to achieve perfection, which carries over to other aspects of life. My ballet career has indelibly shaped the person I am today. From the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get there, to the actual experience of dancing professionally itself.

The training required in order to be a professional ballerina can be likened to that of an Olympic athlete. I didn’t have a normal childhood. I didn’t go to school all day.  I never stepped foot in my high school cafeteria. I never went to prom. I missed out on a lot of milestones. Instead of “hanging out” on the weekends, I spent 8 hours at the studio. Days off from school meant more hours in the studio, not time with friends. My mom was a professional ballerina, and knew the struggle of life after dance all to well. Subsequently, she made me put my education as a priority. I wasn’t allowed to go to ballet unless I had straight A’s. Even though it was an annoyance at the time, I’m grateful that my mom forced me to graduate high school before pursuing a professional ballet career. I know many professional ballet dancers haven’t completed their high school education, and they are sorry about it later.

The perfectionist attitude I had towards ballet carried over into my academia. My school was very understanding: allowing me to graduate early, to come in for only for half days, to skip lunch period in order to take another English class, and replacing my PE classes and electives with credits from ballet. Subsequently, I missed any and all opportunities for social integration in school. I graduated from high school in only three years on the honor roll with a 4.2 GPA. At the time, I was proud of myself but I didn’t realistically think I would ever even use my education down the line. I could have scrapped by with the bare minimum effort just to get out of there, but that’s just not my nature. Ballet has ingrained in me to give 100% always, no matter what. When I walked in the graduation ceremony and they called my name to come to the podium and collect my diploma, my peers looked around confused and whispering to each other. They had never seen me before and had no idea who I was; I was a ghost at school. It didn’t faze me because at 16, I was off to move to New York City by myself to dance with American Ballet Theatre.

 Photo by Francisco Estevez

Photo by Francisco Estevez

When I was dancing professionally, I found myself becoming really wrapped up in company drama and casting disappointments. Ballet was my entire life, so any small disappointment made me feel like my whole world was crashing down on me. I decided to pursue a degree online on the side in order to have another place to channel my energy. Even though I didn’t actually think I would ever walk away from it with a bachelor’s degree, I still gave it my all. It gave me another sense of purpose, and made me feel more balanced and levelheaded. If I wasn’t called to a rehearsal for a part that I wanted, it was okay because it meant that I had that much more time to study. I am pursuing the rest of my degree at this time because doing so gives me purpose and I know it will open up many doors for whatever I choose to pursue and excel at next.

To read more, check out this Pointe Magazine article about ballet dancers that choose to pursue education.

 Photo by Francisco Estevez

Photo by Francisco Estevez