A Public Humiliation Has Become One of My Favorite Memories

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I step off the plane, and Denver’s fresh, crisp air hits me suddenly but softly at once.

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Welcome home, I whisper to myself.

I’m trying Denver on for the next three days. It’s February (a few years ago), and in the next few months I will not only graduate high school but I will also (hopefully) find my home with my first professional ballet company.

All my years of training have come down to these next four months — my company audition tour. And while it’s scary not knowing where I will end up next fall, it feels exciting, magical even. 

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I know this is my destiny, to be a ballet dancer, and I’m ready to make the transition from student to professional. I feel it in my dancing, in my wandering thoughts in chem class, in my thirst for something bigger.

Tomorrow, I will take my first professional company class with hopes of signing a contract with Colorado Ballet. My ballet instructor scored me a private audition after showing the director my reel.

As I walk through the airport, I carry a new air of confidence.

Skylar, Youth America Grand Prix winner. I roll the words around in my head. It still feels surreal that just last weekend I was standing on a stage in Texas accepting 1st place in the Contemporary category and 2nd place in Classical at one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions’ semi-finals. After years of not placing, this was proof: I was ready.

But there’s one thing that is clouding my confidence and twisting my stomach into knots as my mom and I exit the airport.

“They didn’t email me back,” I tell my mom as we hop in a cab.

I emailed the company coordinator a few days back asking if they’d like me to wear my pointe shoes in class or not. I was praying for a “Whatever you’d like!” response but only received silence.

To wear your pointe shoes for a pointe class or variation class, that was a piece of cake. All the combinations are created for women en pointe. But company class in pointe shoes? When you have audition nerves shaking your entire body? That was a whole other ball game, something professional dancers spend years getting comfortable with.

My gut was screaming at me, frantically waving its hands, urging me to do what would showcase my talent, my artistry, and calm nerves. Forget about what’s expected of you! This is your audition, do what you need to do for you! it yelled.

I nibble on some toast the day of the audition, but I’m too nervous to eat. Walking over to Colorado Ballet, I’m silent, a light has gone out in me.

“Sweatheart, you’re ready for this,” my mom reminds me as we say goodbye. All of a sudden, I’m not so sure.

I enter the studio like a freshman entering the senior lounge. I frantically scan the room for an open spot at the barre. I find one, and b-line toward the empty space.

“Veronica stands there,” a girl says and then turns her back to me.

Shit, shit, shit. I scan the room again and spot a friendly girl with a gummy grin.

“Can I squeeze in here?” I ask her with Bambie eyes.

“Sure!” Gummy Grin says, “Just stand on the end.”

Phew. The hard part’s over. Now, I just have to relax and take class, I remind myself. I look around my barre. Half the women are in pointe shoes, half in flat. I look at the clock. Two minutes until we start. 

You look like a child, a complete amateur.

Panicked, I plop myself on the floor and frantically change out of my flat shoes and into my pointe shoes. My hands shake as I tuck my last ribbon in just as the ballet mistress enters.

Barre goes by in a blur. The combinations aren’t quite sticking in my mind. I follow along, detached from my body.

As we move to center, I comfort myself knowing the director hasn’t come to watch me yet; I still have time to redeem myself. But things only get worse.

The combinations are fast and convoluted, and I’m completely off my leg. I can’t even stand on one foot without wobbling, let alone land those triple pirouettes that have been coming so naturally to me lately.

When the ballet mistress announces grand allegro — the final combination in a ballet class – I breathe for the first time. I have made it through this living hell.

“Going in a circle,” she says “Pique on eight! And tour jeté, tour jeté, tombe pas de bourré, grand jeté. Gentlemen! I want to see you fly!”

And with that, the pianist starts. Eight women run into the circle to prepare, and they’re off.

Okay, next group. Get this over with. Go in the next group.

I run into the circle but am cut off by an older company member.

I’ll try the next group, I reassure myself.

The groups file in, but I can’t find my window. I decide I just won’t go. No one will notice, I think. I then look in the doorway, and there he is, the artistic director of Colorado Ballet.

Shit. I have to go now.

I gather all my courage and run into the circle. As I step into my arabesque to prepare, the tempo drastically drops.

WTF is going on?!

I look around. I’m in the men’s circle. I’M IN THE FREAKING MEN’S CIRCLE. The slow tempo that allows them to float in the air twice as long as the women makes me look like I’m doing some kind of interpretive dance as I try to fill the music.

The man behind me lands his tour jeté and comes hurtling at me, passing me in the circle like I’m invisible.

I look like a lost child, but I feel even smaller. A male company member whistles at me, a group of girls break out in laughter.

I am a disaster.

As we exit class, I feel someone touch me on the shoulder; they look at me with pity in their eyes. I stare at the ground.

Now sitting in the director’s office, I wait for him like a death sentence. He enters and sits down.

“I think we both know you’re clearly not ready for this,” he says.

I nod my head slowly in shame.

“Right,” I mumble.

What are you doing!? Don’t agree with him!! You had an off day!! Don’t let him tell you who you are, my heart screams at me. But I say nothing.

Back at the hotel, my mom holds me through my dissipating tears. “Not every stop is your station, sweetheart,” she whispers. I wish she’d just be quiet.

What was I to do now? It was clear I was an untalented nothing.

And so I did what any 18-year-old girl would do. I suppressed the memory back into the recesses of my brain, dodged my ballet instructor’s phone calls like they were bullets, and answered any questions about the audition with a glib “it was fine.” But there was still one little thing: My next three months were filled with auditions. How could I ever audition again?

The answer was simple. I placed one foot in the studio and then the other. Weekend after weekend, I showed up. That just had to be enough. Slowly, I became more comfortable and by May, I was a little too comfortable. It’s a funny thing when you spend every Saturday praying some director will find you worthy of their company, opening your heart and soul to them through your body. At some point, you just have to stop caring and start dancing for yourself.

What will be will be, I’d say to my mother with a newfound Buddha confidence.

And it turns out, I was right.

I was sitting on a hotel bed with a horrible cold just about to walk out onto the New York City streets for my final audition when I got the call. I pressed my phone against my ear to hear the message. A sing-song British accent met me; it was Lousiville Ballet. They were offering me a contract. They loved my artistry.

I put my phone down and recount the message to my mother.

“Not every stop is your station, but this feels like yours, doesn’t it?” my mom said. We hadn’t spoken about my trainwreck of an audition since the day it happened, but I know she’s referencing it. I know she’s telling me that not everyone will value me, my dancing, or my gifts, but there’s someone/somewhere out there that will.

For the first time, I finally understand.

Skylar Harrison
Skylar Harrison

Skylar is both word and food obsessed and once cried over spilt guacamole. And no, she doesn't want to talk about it. Follow her at @skylarharrison.