A break from college confirms passion and possibilities for dance career


When I took my first ballet class at 11, I never imagined where it would take me. I never would’ve guessed that it would lead me to New York and Chicago. I never imagined that I’d meet historical dance figures like Arthur Mitchell, Debra Austin or Jillana. I never pictured that I could be one of those people who pursue dance professionally. When I took that first step into the studio, I was just curious to see what all the hype was about.

In 2022 I took a gap year from UTEP. In that time, I joined the Ruth Page Civic Ballet trainee company in Chicago. To say it was a whirlwind, doesn’t accurately describe how quickly things moved.

I follow ballet legend, Lauren Anderson’s Instagram. She was the first Black Ballerina in a major ballet company. She’s living history. I saw a post on her Instagram page, about a scholarship dedicated to Black dancers, between the ages of 17 and 25, to study at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

Myself and Lauren Anderson after a ballet class with her.

Lauren Anderson, left, and me after a ballet class with her.

The school’s goal was to diversify their dance space. This would be done by providing free tuition and professional training to those who showed potential. It’s no secret that ballet is historically white. It pervades every aspect of the art form from the pink tights that dancers wear, to the body types that are glorified, who has access to classes and everything in-between. I’m not saying that there isn’t a space for Black dancers, but it’s a narrow space that we’re trying to widen. Ballet is an extremely privileged art form and I’m so lucky to have found it.

I figured I try for it. The worst thing they could tell me was “no.” Most girls train from the moment they can walk to be a dancer; which can be as early as 18 months. (I wish I was kidding). I started “late,” right after my 11th birthday. I had to play catch-up to build that foundation, but thanks to my primary ballet teachers, Andree Harper and Ouisa Davis, I’d say I’m pretty solid.

After conversing on and off with the director of the program and discussing what they wanted to see, I filmed my audition video. I like to joke that my audition video was double blessed for two reasons: one, I filmed on my birthday; two, I got to work individually with Harper and virtually no one gets to do that because that’s not her thing.

Auditioning is one of those things that never necessarily gets easier, you just get better at dealing with the emotion that goes with it. I’m a perfectionist, forever picking at myself to find things to improve, so rather than hyper-analyze my video, I sent it in and forgot about it. Literally. My family and I went on a Disney trip a couple days afterwards. It was pretty easy to forget about. The director went radio silent during the duration of my trip, so I put it out of my mind.

In late July, I received my informal acceptance. I was ecstatic, but it still didn’t feel real. The thought that I’d literally be moving cross-country by myself didn’t feel real. I’ve done summer intensives, so leaving home wasn’t a huge deal. I spent a month in Taos, N.M., with the Jillana School and a month in New York City with Dance Theatre of Harlem (Also, got a scholarship for that one). But I couldn’t imagine literally packing up my life and moving to the Midwest. As much as I was in disbelief (and to my mother’s dismay) I decided to take a gap year. In a matter of weeks, I packed my life into one checked bag, a carry-on and hopped on a plane.

Let me remind you, from initial contact to moving, this all happened within a month and a half.

I fell in love with Chicago. I’m still in love with it. I love the energy of the city. It’s busy. It’s noisy. The people have big attitudes and the arts scene is HUGE. (In my opinion, Chicago is New York’s bougie older cousin). I can’t explain how good it felt to be surrounded by a bunch of dance nerds like me. I especially loved seeing companies like Deeply Rooted and South Chicago Dance Theatre filled with dancers that looked just like me. It’s a sense of belonging that I hope everyone experiences at least once in their lives. It’s what solidified my thoughts about pursuing this professionally.

The initial month or so in Chicago were all about adjusting to a new space, roommates and schedule. The schedule we were on was intense. On our most packed day we had floor barre 9:30- 10:45, ballet from 11-12:30, pointe class from 12:30-1:15 and then afternoon rehearsals from 1:45-4. That’s not including additional evening or weekend rehearsals with the school’s students for Nutcracker or things like that.

We had performances and outreach every month, but my favorite experience had to be when Timothy O’Donnell from Milwaukee Ballet came to choreograph his piece, Les Celebrants, on us. It was an incredibly intense week. We’d take ballet to warm up in the mornings and then from like 10 am to 4pm, we worked on choreo. I’ll always remember my first interaction with him and how disarming he was.

Tim and myself on the last day of rehearsals for his piece, Les Celebrants. (My hair looks awful from sweating all day long.)

O’Donnell and me on the last day of rehearsals for his piece, Les Celebrants. (My hair looks awful from sweating all day long.)

O’Donnell walks in. He’s like a 5’10 Australian dude with a culture-rich air that surrounds him and the first thing he says to us is, “I just want us to have f****** fun.” And we did. That piece will always hold a special place in my heart because it was f****** fun. The music wasn’t the traditional classical music we usually danced to; it was a spicy Latin-sounding piece.

We got to dance with our hair down, instead of in a stuffy bun. We didn’t wear tights, so our legs were bare and we painted our pointe shoes to match our skin. It was really one of those pieces where you have a lot of freedom to play within it. To say I loved that piece is an understatement. In my mind, it solidified why I do, what I do: I love it.

My year finished up with a final performance for Ravinia Dance Festival, which is like the big” performance because a bunch of professional companies come together and perform. There’s a saying in the dance world that goes: if you dance on your birthday, you’ll have a long dance career. I must be doubly lucky because not only did I dance on my 23rd birthday, I had a performance that evening. (It went swimmingly, by the way.) With that luck, it seems I’m going to dance for a lifetime.

Once back in El Paso, I got to tie up loose ends, which meant finishing my degree. But I was itching to get back. I missed watching Giordano Dance Chicago’s high-energy jazz performances. I missed having a variety of dance styles readily available. I could take anything; heels, jazz, modern, musical theatre, and all I had to do was hop on a train and get there. I’ll miss the camaraderie that comes with company culture. I don’t take any of it for granted.

A full-body shot of myself.

I’m thankful that I was given the scholarship. I had not one, but two pieces choreographed on me and got to experience that process and how things evolve. I’m so grateful for all that I gained from the experience: the classes I took, the friends I made, and to witness how resilient my body truly is. I genuinely don’t think I’d be pursuing dance the way I am without it.

Comments are closed.