What I Learned From Ballet

Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared on the blog theajennda.com and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

By Taylor Gordon

Learning is endless. Learning is to improve. Learning is life.

You live. You learn. You love. You dance. You learn.

by Amber RanaI’ve been dancing since I was in the womb (mom was a jazz teacher) and my growth from garage recitals to New York City’s biggest stages mirrored my passage from shy picky eater to 25-year old traveling the world. Ballet has been my life, and the list of what I’ve learned (and continue to discover) from it is endless.

I’ll spare you the obvious: ballet dancers learn discipline, hard work, perfectionism, perseverance, physical fitness, competition, and so much more through serious training. But there’s more.

Ballet has taught me how to love deeply.

I am passionately in love with being onstage. It’s terrible. The can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-euphoric kind of love. When you find that love early in life it’s hard for much of anything else to stand up in comparison. And when it does, you fall in deep because that’s the only way you know how.

I don’t always feel that way about ballet itself.

When I was ten I was told I’d never be a ballet dancer because of my feet and turnout. Since then I’ve been fighting to create the same lines, the same technique, the same grace as those much more physically gifted around me.

Ballet has taught me to fake it ‘til you make it.

My Pilates and anatomy training has shown me that the hyper-extended legs I so desperately wanted aesthetically actually do help you to perform certain ballet exercises better. But with the patient guidance of a few amazing teachers I’ve figured out how to work with my body, my tool, to create art. Standing onstage at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House in a tutu and pointe shoes pretty much proved the ten-year-old Taylor capable years later.

Ballet has taught me to be hungry.

Hungry for opportunity, for perfection, for attention. Only now am I starting to learn how to satisfy those cravings on my own. As dancers in a professional school, company, or show we are constantly trying to impress our director, compete for roles, jump a little higher. It’s the nature of our work. But I’ve found it very unhealthy to base your personal happiness on one other person’s opinion.

We’re trained to aspire to prima ballerina status with a major ballet company. If you don’t get a company contract by age 18 you’ve basically failed. What I’ve learned from experience freelancing is that there’s more than one track to what you want, if you work hard.We’re trained to aspire to prima ballerina status with a major ballet
company. If you don’t get a company contract by age 18 you’ve basically
failed. What I’ve learned from experience freelancing is that there’s
more than one track to what you want, if you work hard.

Freelancing is difficult. There are times I’m not sure when I’ll get to be onstage next, and other times when I can’t squeeze all my rehearsals into a 24-hour day. But I am dancing and performing more than I would be had I taken an apprenticeship outside of New York at 18. The hunger pangs are still there (sometimes literally in this expensive city!), but I can sample so much more.

Ballet has taught me that illusion is everything.

Growing up at Boston Ballet, I was fortunate enough to dance in many of the company’s productions. Besides Nutcrackers galore, I was a peasant child in Giselle (my favorite ballet to this day). After my cameo in Act I they allowed us to watch the Willis from the wings each night. It was amazing to feel the whoosh of tutus go past on downstage left. One night the ballerina playing Myrta bourre’d offstage next to me, veiled, porcelain white, ethereal – and let out a huge BURP as soon as she passed the prop table. I couldn’t believe it. Ballerinas don’t burp! How could she ruin my image of perfection? That was the moment I realized that ballet dancers are still just human beings.

Taylor Gordon (right) as Serena Silvertail in the current national tour of “Angelina Ballerina, The Musical
Ballet has taught me the importance of timing.

I love playing with the music and timing of a phrase in class. It’s one of the freedoms I love most about dancing professionally, being able to make choices within the technique. But the right timing also can change your life. I’ve been cast for certain roles because I was in the right place at the right time. I’ve missed opportunities because of scheduling. Sometimes I wish I could invent one of those time traveling devices Hermione has to be in two places at once. But the truth is we can only live in the now.

Ballet has taught me how to find home anywhere.

The pops of knees at the first grande plie, the avoiding the cracks in the mirrors, the headache you get from a hairpin out of place – all of these are universal in any ballet studio across the world. Travel has become a big priority and source of enjoyment in my life the past few years. I’ve taken class with several companies in Europe and even when I don’t understand the language, an angry ballet mistress yelling at you to close your ribs is always the same. The U.S. national tour I’m currently on has taken me to the studios of companies out west. It’s comforting to find a community anyplace – Oklahoma, Madrid, New York City – with similar aspirations, challenges, and routines.

Ballet has taught me to appreciate today.

Another universal notion is that ballet is painful. I’ve had surgery on my ankle and countless other aches. Sometimes just waking up in the morning and getting to the studio seems like the most daunting task in the world, never-mind making a fifth position. But the reality is that there may come a day where I cannot dance. I’ve learned to be so thankful for each day I’m able to do what I know and work toward an upcoming performance.

Someone once told me to “learn to love the daily-ness of dancing.” We can only be so lucky to have that love last a lifetime.

Taylor Gordon headshot by Brian MenginiCurrently on the national tour of “Angelina Ballerina, The Musical,” Taylor Gordon has danced with The Metropolitan Opera Ballet at Lincoln Center, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Exit 12 Dance Company, Jeremy McQueen/Jacob’s Pillow, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Ballet for Young Audiences, Albano Ballet, New American Youth Ballet, Untitled|Collective, Push Factor Dance Company, DTW’s Studio Series/Oren Barnoy, Felice Lesser Dance Theater, Trainor Dance, and in numerous concert and promotional performances around NYC. She trained at Boston Ballet, The Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet, and Ballet Academy East NYC (performing as a student with each respective major company), with summers at ABT, Miami City Ballet, and Complexions. She is an AGMA and AGVA member.

Taylor is also a freelance writer and received a BA in communication arts and Masters Degree in publishing by age 20. She has written for Dance Teacher, Pointe, Dancer Magazine, movmnt, M Life Magazine, Quick & Simple, ExploreDance.com, and has interned at publications including The New Yorker. She has taught Dance History for The School for Young Performers and Ballet 4 Adults Certification.

An American Council on Exercise Group Fitness Instructor certified in Pilates and the former New York City Ballet Workout, Taylor teaches regularly at Pilates on Fifth, Crunch, Synergy Fitness, Third Street Music School Settlement, and privately. She works as assistant director of the semiannual Performing in NY Showcases at The Ailey Citigroup Theater.

Taylor has been featured in The New York Times, Dance Spirit, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair Online, Answers4Dancers, Media Bistro, NBC News, and more. Read more here.


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