Ballet is Necessary: Teaching Leadership While Breaking Barriers

My passion lies in dances of all kinds. Ballet, Modern, Latin Folk, African, you name it! For years, I was convinced I would grow up to be a professional dancer. I imagined myself dancing all over the world like Josephine Baker and expressing a story through choreography at Jacob's Pillow. Unfortunately, my dream came crushing down as I began applying for colleges. I found myself looking only at arts schools that had intensive dance programs while my family hoped I was applying to schools for a more practical degree - Business or something STEM-related. On November of 2012, I got a call from the Posse Foundation announcing my acceptance to Brandeis University through the Posse program. Although I was excited to have received a four-year full-tuition leadership scholarship, it meant my dreams of becoming a professional dancer were over.

Brandeis University does not offer a major nor minor in Dance studies yet there are dozens of student-run cultural dance clubs on campus. Needless to say, I was disappointed throughout my first year of college. I tried so hard to become involved in as many dance clubs as possible. I wanted to create a department that would cater to the needs of all dancers, including myself. It wasn't until the end of my sophomore year that I finally gave up. The response was always the same - we don't have funding, there aren't enough classes already offered, etc.

I began to reflect on my experiences with dance. Why was it so important to me? Why would I go through so much trouble if I were only going to attend college for four years? As I dug deeper into the questions that haunted my thoughts for months, I realized my passion was more than just dance and performance. The values and skills I obtained through ballet taught me lessons that helped me get to college.
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Dance is a universal language that has helped me break barriers and enter communities I could not have accessed without it.

During my first internship, I participated in a research-based program with CARE. Along with 9 other high school students, I traveled to Ecuador to learn about the effects of poverty on education. One particular night, I was eating dinner with my host family when the sound of music approached our home. We were invited to a community-wide celebration. I witnessed diverse people (the other students I traveled with) that could not communicate in Spanish come together with dance, music and laughter. In that moment, dancing with our host families and each other, the language and cultural barriers we faced throughout the trip were completely destroyed.

Dancing at the Atlanta Ballet for over ten years has taught me so much more than I could have imagined. Yes, I learned to pointe my toes and make a perfect bun but it's the qualities and skills I learned from the community that made a lasting impression on me.

Teamwork.
I could not have succeeded if I did not learn the value of communication. Although pas de deux is an excellent example in which communication is essential, simply working with the company demanded good communication skills. A ballet is nothing if all its dancers do not learn to work well together. I have learned how to approach my peers vocally and physically while also understanding the value of patience and trust.

Perseverance.
A lot of people I worked with were passionate about dance. That is what brought us together and its what made it possible for us to work well together. But without perseverance a dancer's success is nearly impossible. I learned to be mentally and physically strong while understanding that only patience and comprehension would allow me to improve. It was self-motivation and the constant drive that allowed me to push through the hard times and achieve my goals.

Leadership.
By working with creative minds and expressive beings, I witnessed leadership in multiple ways. The choreographer is an obvious leader because they direct their entire vision. The real leaders however are the dancers. Working with Atlanta Ballet's company and pre-professional students taught me that there are different types of leaders and they are all important. There is the leader that keeps everyone on track during rehearsals and the silent leader that speaks little with their voice but volumes with their body. There is the leader that is first to follow and encourages others to follow too. There is also the leader that challenges their peers by pushing them to work harder.
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And then there's me. A unique kind of leader...I'd like to think. I was often times intimidated by my peers. I didn't have the ballet body - the legs, the feet, the flexibility. It wasn't until my third year at Brandeis University that I really found my voice in dance. I choreograph and teach and perform just like everyone else. But I have shown the Brandeis community the power of dance through my story.

I would not have the friends I have today if I were too scared to audition for Kaos Kids (competitive hip-hop crew). I would not have been a proud woman of color at Brandeis if I did not meet the amazing community of minority students through cultural dance groups like Abyssinia (Ethiopian folk dance), Rebelle (Afro-Caribbean dance), Bhangra (Indian dance) and Caribbean Queens (Afro/Latin Caribbean dance).

The point is... Dance matters. It is essential to the development of every child, teenager, adult and elder. The art and sport of dancing has endless values that can and will change lives. My experiences at the Atlanta Ballet and Brandeis University have made me feel empowered as a Peruvian and Colombian woman. Dance has taught me to be a leader by taking risks, fearlessly.
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