Passion, Beauty, and Ballet: The Story of Madeleine Tsung '21

I believe that performing arts is not only a way of sharing love for the arts as a community, but also a way for individual performers to express their craft and internal thoughts to the audience.

I believe that performing arts is not only a way of sharing love for the arts as a community, but also a way for individual performers to express their craft and internal thoughts to the audience. While many people consider ballet as either a sport or an art, I consider ballet as more of an art because of the visual stimulus involved in movements and performance. Once a dancer achieves good technique, further training becomes a search for artistry and how to connect with the audience through body language. On the other hand, ballet is still, nevertheless, considered a sport because dancers have to master pristine body control, technique, and stamina attained through many years of practice. Ultimately, ballet bridges the gap between art and sport, since it is both physically demanding and artistically communicative.

People often only see the elegance, beauty, and simplicity of dance, but it is far more than what's shown on stage. In middle school, I had the opportunity to attend the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C.—a professional ballet school—to follow my dream of becoming a professional ballerina. Over the summer, Kirov held an audition in D.C. and I was lucky enough to be accepted. While dancing at the school had its perks, my biggest struggle at Kirov was adjusting to the overall "academy" life. I was 11 at the time and I wasn't used to being a boarder yet. As one of the youngest students, having older friends support me made it easier to bear being away from home, though it was still emotionally overwhelming. I developed close relationships with my teachers, who helped reshape my life and adjust to hardships. My ballet master trained us through tough love. By being critical about our performance, she showed us the true meaning of hard work, inspiring me to become diligent both inside and out of class, to have grit, and to never give up on what I love to do. Though she was strict during class, she was the sweetest and most caring teacher outside of the studio. I used to always fear her, but that feeling changed when I started to understand the purpose behind her austerity. She wanted to make us not only physically stronger, but also mentally prepared for the challenges that came along with our choice to pursue professional ballet. Until this day, I am constantly reminded of how to overcome failure, to rise from the ashes, and to be strong in times of pain and misery.

She taught us these valuable life lessons because being a dancer takes extraordinary amounts of hard work and dedication behind the scenes, as we spend up to 15-20 training hours a week in the studio. All of this lies on top of school work and social life. What the audience sees in the span of two minutes on stage comes with countless hours of sweat and tears. Our feet are constantly in pointe shoes, and sometimes, they hurt until our toes grow numb. Our muscles would shake during long combinations and slow music, but we couldn't stop.

At Kirov, although rigorous training put enormous pressure on my body, I eventually found ways to ease the stress by spending an hour and a half in the studio warming up before our days began. I covered myself in warm up clothes—usually a vest, sweatpants, and fluffy socks—to keep my body warm. I would then stretch and roll my muscles out, warming up my joints to prevent injuries. Training didn't just stop after we left the studios. After class, I often did strengthening exercises to target my abdomen, supporting leg, and back. At the end of a long and tiring day, I sometimes soaked my feet in warm water to ease the pain and blisters that came from constantly cramming my toes in a wooden shoe.

Just like everything, ballet is both beauty and ugliness. Through pain and passion, dancers face many struggles; but our love for the art brings us back to the studio and to the stage despite the daily hardships that we experience. Ballet, and the feeling of dancing on stage, is so rewarding, it makes me forget about all the pain, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

Nothing can make me relate more to the saying that, through doing what you love, "the sweat and tears will be worth it." The way I feel on stage is indescribable. I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in all the time and energy I have dedicated to ballet. The beauty of dance itself is built upon sacrifices that dancers have to make. Only after pain and discomfort does ballet showcase the true beauty in a dancer. All the hours of training and grooming for our bodies to move and look a certain way culminate on stage, and the feeling of achieving perfection inspires me to work even harder. I have never given much thought as to how ballet has influenced my identity, but after becoming a full-time boarding student and joining the Lawrenceville community, I began to realize how my passion for ballet is the one part of me that has never changed.

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