For the longest time, fifteen years to be exact, I dreamed of growing up to be a ballerina. I took my first ballet class at the age of three after begging my parents to sign me up. My initial years of ballet were exactly as I had imagined before starting; I wore a pink leotard with pink tights and pink ballet slippers, as I leapt around freely and marveled in the magic of the yearly production of The Nutcracker.
I started as a Gingerette when I was five-years-old, hiding under Mother Ginger’s hooped skirt with circles of red lipstick drawn onto my cheeks in place of blush. From there, I moved on to being a doll, popping out of a dollhouse at the wave of Drosselmeyer’s wand. After performing other minor roles, such as a party girl and soldier, I played the role of Clara:, a role I fantasized about taking on for many years, narrating the story of the Nutcracker through the freedom of movement and expression. Despite playing lead roles in the Nutcracker and a promising future in the ballet world, a nagging issue could hardly escape my notice: the harmful effects of body shaming.
As I entered my first year of high school, where new social expectations were in place, this became an even more prevalent concern - so much so, that I realized I simply could not handle the pressure of worrying about my body weight. I found I could no longer endure being compared to the girls around me, whose bodies bent in different ways from mine, or listen to my classmates lament about not being thin enough, as if starvation was the solution to their problems. This pressure continued to weigh down on me to a point where walking away from this tainted community seemed to be the only option to prevent myself from succumbing to unhealthy peer pressure.
At the end of ninth grade, I ended my formal training as a dancer due to the toxic ballet environment. The devastation of giving up my long-held life dream threatened to overwhelm me, but one thing kept me grounded and pushed me forward: my violin. Although I started playing violin only two years after ballet, violin felt second to my ballet slippers. However this would soon change.
Suddenly, I was able to use time once spent dancing to give adequate attention to practicing new and exciting repertoire, such as Saint-Saëns’s Violin Concerto No. 3 and Stravinsky’s Petrushka. I began studying violin with a professional, classically-trained, Juilliard graduate. Learnings from my private teachers as well as programs such as the Marrowstone Music Festival in Bellingham, Washington, enabled me to audition into Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Junior Symphony Orchestra; a feat I had tried and failed at since the third grade. The absence of ballet allowed me to discover a newfound passion for music. It opened a new form of communication, increased my appreciation for fellow musicians, pushed me to challenge myself in new ways, both musically and non-musically, and created valuable bonds with other musicians. Since ending my ballet career, violin has played a tremendous role in my life. Pursuing this new hobby provided a way to center myself. I found a platform through which I could express my emotions without the social stigma I had once felt. And in this way, the violin became so much more than a mere pastime; it became a passion.
I played in a full orchestra for the first time at Marrowstone in the City, an orchestra summer camp, in 2012. At MITC, I learned the beginnings of how to put thoughts into sounds that would be comprehensible by an audience. More importantly, I learned the emotional rewards that come with collaborating with others to tell a piece’s story. This would prove an invaluable skill as I got older and, although I did not know it at the time, the two weeks at a half-day orchestra camp had an enormous impact on my goals.
Fast-forward four years from my first year of MITC, and I entered high school. Playing had a monumental effect on my ability to transition to a new school. In a place where everything, from the campus to the teachers and students, seemed intimidating, orchestra class was a space in which I could express myself through my playing. Not only did I feel comfortable around fellow musicians, but I also increased my appreciation for the more advanced pieces I was learning and began to challenge myself in different ways—both musically and non-musically. Participation in orchestra programs, not just at school, provided opportunities to meet and bond with others with ease.