Contributed by Alyssa Chen
School. Ballet. Homework. Sleep. Repeat. That’s the daily routine of students who dance at the Brookline Ballet School.
For these nine students at the high school, ballet is an integral part of their lives. They spend multiple hours there six days a week, not including their extra rehearsals for performances like “The Nutcracker,” which has greatly impacted their lives.
Like other sports, ballet requires extreme physical strength and agility. Ballet includes specifically challenging tasks, like pointe work, which is done in wooden, satin-covered shoes and requires dancers to stand on their toes. Junior Alyssa Chen often finds the pain this causes her to experience, as well as the muscle pain that comes from every aspect of the dance, to be a piece of the ballet world she carries with her.
“Oftentimes my feet are in a lot of pain from pointe, so the next morning when I wake up, I’ll have to pad my blisters so they don’t rub in my shoes,” Chen said. “Or my toenails will hurt, and I’ll have to walk around gingerly. Also my muscles get really sore, so it can be really uncomfortable to sit.”
For senior Gigi Walsh, who has been dancing at Brookline Ballet since her freshman year, some of the biggest challenges are the largely overlooked emotional ones.
“I think that ballet has the potential to be toxic, and it can be something that makes you extremely critical of yourself, but you can learn how to approach it in a way where it’s healthy for you, and where it’s something positive in your life,” Walsh said.
Sophomore Joy Xiang has struggled to accept that while perfection is strived for, it is impossible to truly achieve. She also sometimes finds it difficult not to compare herself to others. Walsh feels that overcoming these psychological challenges has taught her many important life lessons.
“You’re going to class every day in tights and a leotard and staring at yourself in a mirror,” Walsh said. “You’re literally being taught to scrutinize and criticize yourself. It’s very easy to spiral into that and get very wrapped up into it.”
Throughout this, the dancers have to make their task look easy. According to Chen, this can often be the hardest part.
“If you have a really long dance, and everything really, really hurts, you still have to smile and pay attention to the little things, like arms, when really all you want to do is just not, because you’re trying to do the moves without falling down,” Chen said.
Yet, the rigors of ballet also offer many positive experiences for its students.
“I really love it when we perform the Nutcracker every year. You can feel yourself progressing. Every year you might get a different role, so it’s really satisfying when you get that role,” Xiang said. “Then when you go on stage and perform, you’ve practiced so much leading up to that point that when you perform it’s such a sense of relief and euphoria.”
For Chen, it is this unique combination of athleticism and artistry that creates what she loves about the activity.
“I just find that really fascinating, how you have to do certain things with your own specific body and you have to troubleshoot that in order to execute moves, and also there’s a side of artistry where you have to make things beautiful and have fun with it, and you get to put your own personal touch on it: I think that is really fun,” Chen said.
Most afternoons, these students will walk 20 minutes to their dance school, have a snack, chat and get ready for class together. Walsh said that beyond the dancing aspect itself, one of the most rewarding parts of her ballet experience is the amazing community she’s found in it.
“I’ve met some of my best friends at my ballet school,” Walsh said. “I feel like I’ve found a really wonderful community there.”
Many of the students also have plans to continue dancing after high school.
“I know wherever I go, I’ll be able to take class somewhere and that’s really what’s most important for me,” Walsh said. “It’s just something that’s a big part of my life so I can’t really imagine stopping it after high school.”