By the time our students reach their senior year in high school and are ready to graduate, most have devoted 12-15 years of their young lives to ballet training. That alone is an accomplishment to be acknowledged and celebrated. Like parents who hope they’ve given their children all they need to spread their wings and fly, we at Marin Ballet know that woven into the thousands of plies and tendus, and hundreds of rehearsals and performances, are life lessons that enrich, grow and guide our students far beyond the walls of Marin Ballet.
Our graduates are part of the Marin Ballet legacy. All have their own story of how they came to dance, their obstacles, their successes, and what they will take with them as they move into their next chapter. Below are some reflections our Class of 2020 had about their journey at Marin Ballet.
Mentorship is an important part of the culture at MB, and this comes through in many ways. We don’t get to go back in time, but… what if these graduates were mentors… to themselves? What if they had a chance to sit in front of their 10-year-old selves? What advice would they give?
Suzanne would say to her younger self, “It’s important not to compare yourself to other dancers. People don’t always like the way they look or the way they dance. I’ve learned that every dancer is beautiful in their own way, and I think comparing yourself to someone else will put a damper on your ability to become the best dancer you can be. I think it’s important to focus on yourself, because that’s the best way that you’ll be able to improve.” She added, “As I got older, I started becoming inspired by other dancers. I watched them dance, and saw what I could take from them and how they work, so that I could look to incorporate different parts from each person. I would say just love yourself for who you are.”
To be a senior at MB means you have achieved a high level of tenacity and resilience. It’s hard to see that when you’re younger. Johanna said, “I’d tell my 10-year-old self to just stick with it. I think I’m pretty proud of the decisions that I made and how I was able to keep up with everything, but that was a really hard time for me. So I would say stick with it, keep working hard, and you’ll get there eventually. It’s not always going to be so hard.”
“One thing I kind of regret is being too shy,” said Charlotte. “Like if I could’ve just put myself out there more and not be afraid.” When asked why she thought this was true for her, she said, “There was probably the fear of being judged or not being the best at something. I still feel like that sometimes, but it’s just easier for me to shake things off and not think about it too much.” Sometimes a single experience can make all the difference. For Charlotte that happened with a piece choreographed by Eva Stone called Heedless/Heartless. “Working on Eva’s piece was the first time I felt more confident in myself. In the third movement I was able to channel my emotions more directly. I understood the purpose of what I was doing. I was kind of able to translate that style of dancing into all of my other future works.”
Raina wishes she had studied other forms of dance as well. “I would probably tell myself to try different styles of dance and just see what dance in its whole has to offer. Because even though at MB we do get the chance to learn different styles of dance during the summer, like jazz, ballroom, West African and contemporary, I really enjoyed all those different styles and I kind of wish I explored them even more. I think it would make me understand my body more and just find what works.”
Francesca’s advice to her younger self is about appreciating the process. “I think I would probably tell myself to do a lot less comparing of myself to others because I feel like in ballet there’s a lot of that, and you can get caught up with that, especially at a young age. So I think just focusing on your own growth.” She reflected further by saying, “I started to do that more as I got older, but when I was younger this was a time when we were physically all changing and looking at other people and judging ourselves, not only in ballet class but in general. That’s a time when people started comparing themselves to others. And in ballet it’s when we began to get other parts and the idea of better and worse became prevalent. So I think just having a reminder at an early age that it’s about your own process would have been useful to hear.” She realized this is helpful for all things, not just ballet. “I think you’re going to improve if you stop feeling bad about where you are and I think telling yourself to not compare yourself to others would help that.”
“Let loose and have more freedom during ballet class.” Nikita would advise. “I was always so focused on technique, and I was determined to improve my strength and flexibility, and because of that I never really practiced my artistry on a daily basis. And I think part of that was the fear and embarrassment of expressing myself. But as I’ve grown older and trained more, I’ve learned that the freedom of expression is one of the best parts of dancing. So I wish I had just let myself go there when I was younger.” She simplified it by saying, “The technique, it’s just straight up physically training your self. But then with artistry, it’s an exploration of a deeper part of your self. I sort of just realized that no one’s going to be judging you for dancing from the heart, and instead they’ll probably admire that quality.”
“Work harder.” Bella would tell her younger self. “I really feel like I could have done more, especially in ballet.” Bella started ballet at first because that’s what her mother wanted for her. “Because I felt like I was being forced to do it, I didn’t really put my all into it. Maybe that’s what makes me what I am now. I can’t change that now, but I feel like I could have done better if I had worked harder during that time.” Eventually Bella fell in love with ballet. “Once I stopped begging my Mom not to make me go, I started to work a lot harder.”
Lauren said, “I would tell her to forgive herself and empower herself. I was sort of afraid to make mistakes for a long time, until I learned to get out of my head and to actually live in the moment.” She added, “I think dance especially can be taken as a very critical art form, and different corrections can be seen as often times negative. However, using those corrections to create improvement, and to benefit yourself, and to allow growth, that’s what really matters. It’s not the actual negative aspect that you should focus on, or the part that you wish would improve, but it’s the actual process, and the work, and ethic that you’re willing to put in to the work that will really shine through.”
Sometimes the advice comes down to one simple thing. Virgil said, “I would tell him to stretch more. It gets harder the older you get so it’s better to do the hard work now.” He also had reflections about his other male friends who were doing sports while he was doing ballet. “I would sometimes think I’m the only guy who’s dancing. Everyone else is playing sports. It’s not a worry at all now but at the time the thought crossed my mind that it wasn’t cool to be doing ballet. At this point in time I know how cool it was to be doing what I was doing.”
Christina says, “I’d tell her to stop worrying what other people think, and comparing herself to others, and to do what she loves for herself. That’s something I’ve struggled with, trying to do what’s socially acceptable and feeling like I’m being judged as not as good as someone else. I would probably, if I could go back, try and not feel that way as much. Especially in dance, I compared myself a lot to other people. Oh I’m not as flexible, or I’m not as good of a dancer. And that doesn’t really get you anywhere.”
Ms. Lucas has been one of the biggest influences in these graduate’s lives at MB. By the time they are seniors they have gotten the most instruction and coaching from her, and all of them leave MB with pearls and wisdom passed on to them by her.
“I’ll definitely remember her corrections when I go to college” said Johanna. “But she also has a really good sense of humor. And maybe she doesn’t take things too seriously sometimes, which I like.” For Charlotte there was one thing in particular that stood out for her. “There was one year that Ms. Lucas kept saying F E A R is just False Evidence Appearing to be Real. I just thought about that a lot. At first I thought this was just some crazy thing she was saying and I didn’t really understand. But the more I thought about it the more I understood where she was coming from and that it was about changing your perspective.”
Virgil shared that, “Before I even took classes with her, when I first started doing Fritz, the way she was able to connect with me even though I wasn’t one of her students yet, and I was young, was special. She saw potential in me and she treated me with a lot of respect considering I was an eleven-year-old. I feel like she talked to me like an adult. She could see what I was and was going to be and she really did a good job of cultivating me. It’s incredible how strong of a connection she forms with every single student.”
Francesca remembers, “She once said, if ballet were a class at school it would be harder than any AP class or honors class, and that you have to make yourself vulnerable in order to do something great. I think with every step you can do in ballet there’s always more, and that if you don’t take risk you can’t expand your own comfort zone and do greater things and continue improving.” She added, “You won’t be able to grow as a dancer and as a person as well.”
Sometimes Ms. Lucas gave coaching that was specific for a dancer. Suzanne said, “She always says there is room for improvement and it’s important to keep working diligently. For Nutcracker, when I was Snow Queen, she stopped giving me technical corrections and she told me about my presence and how to feel. She said I should feel grand, and be like the bow of a ship. And that really stuck with me because it helped me connect with the Snow Queen character. Everything she would say I’d apply it to my work.”
Ms. Lucas always has great expressions that help students embrace a particular coaching. Nikita remembers, “One correction that sticks out for me is that she used to tell us to coordinate the foot and the hand. And the reason that I remember this so vividly is because she used to joke that we should get her a Tshirt that says on the front, ‘Foot and What?’ and on the back ‘and Hand.’ And sure enough our level got her a custom Tshirt printed with those words as a spring concert gift.”
Bella will remember many things about Ms. Lucas but especially her laugh. “I don’t think I’m ever going to forget her laugh, or her smile. She’s really the first who told me to just have fun. A lot of my beliefs originated from her. Not even just about ballet or anything, but about life. She taught us a lot.”
“Other than my Mom and my Dad, she’s definitely been the biggest influence that I’ve had in my life,” said Lauren. “She’s made me re-evaluate the way I process things, and the way I grow as a person. So I give her so much credit for teaching me how to value not only the end result, but the process and the journey along the road to lead you to that goal.” There was one particularly special moment for Lauren. “It wasn’t until last year that Ms. Lucas realized I was a left turner, and then she gave me the biggest compliment that I will always remember. She said to the class, across the past four years of high school the most consistent turner was me! And that just really inspired me to work even more after class, and continue to practice turns every day. It really was such a confidence boost and that just made me feel incredible. It really taught me to not just take the natural position for everything, but to work to all of my strengths rather than the most dominant one.”
Christina remembers a specific experience during the Regional Dance America festival. “I remember it was my second RDA trip and it was nationals, so it was the biggest one and there were a ton of people there, and it was my first time performing at a big convention. I was super nervous and someone had gotten hurt right before we left and we had to redo a bunch of the dance. So I was super on edge. It was the day before we went on and Ms. Lucas came over to me and she was like, ‘Are you ok? You seem really nervous.’ I think this was the first time I ever really had bad stage freight. It wasn’t anything I dealt with before that. Just knowing there would be a ton of people in the audience, I was just so nervous. I remember in front of the whole group, all of MB that was there, I just started crying so hard. She gave me a big hug, and said, ‘Sometimes you just need to cry.’ And after that the entire group basically started crying. I remember I was just standing there and she stayed hugging me for like probably ten minutes. I was just crying to her.” Christina went on to say, “I feel like it was such a bonding moment because she just said, ‘Cry it out. Cry it out.’ And she just kept hugging me for so long.” Ms. Lucas was able to hold space and bring comfort not just to Christina but the other dancers as well. “It was sad at first but then we were all kind of laughing. It was really amazing. I felt so supported. She was like my second Mom, standing there, caring for and looking after everyone. It was a really cool experience.”
One thing Ms. Lucas said that Raina continues use in her life and will stay with her forever is, “You have to treat yourself like a puppy. You should give yourself love, but also discipline.”
This has been an historic time. This graduating class of 2020 has felt many losses in terms of their final months as seniors. The sense of community and face-to-face connection is, perhaps, one of the greatest sorrows that our seniors expressed with regard to the experience of Shelter in Place.
These dancers know from their long journey at MB about perseverance, resilience, improvisation, problem-solving and adapting, and they also know within all challenges also lie gifts. They shared how they’ve appreciated quality time with their families in ways they hadn’t before. Some expressed how they had never had space in their schedule to do something as simple as read a book for pleasure, restart a forgotten hobby, or pick up a new craft. We even have a new entrepreneur who started a business during this time! Charlotte started tie-dying and embroidering sweatshirts, first for her friends. Then, because they were so well liked, she started a business called My Dye Clothing (It’s on Instagram J). She decided from the start that all the profits would go to the organization called The Tipping Point, which supports local non-profits in the Bay Area and specifically for the Covid-19 response fund to help people in poverty. Francesca started painting, and she and her parents are surprised at how good her work is. Johanna started playing the piano again and has re-learned all the songs she used to know. These current circumstances have made them keenly aware of the gift of health, the importance of gratitude, and the value of community.
All the graduates are clear about the lifelong treasures they got from their journey with MB. These include developing excellent time management skills, understanding how to set and achieve goals, having tools to navigate challenging times, appreciating the value of celebrating accomplishments, having self-discipline and motivation, and maintaining a strong worth ethic. Perhaps Lauren put it best, “Ballet is a life style. The work you do in the studio is important, but it’s also important what you take outside of it as well.” There are so many more things to share about these outstanding humans. But, for now, we send them off with well wishes. We are confident in and inspired by who they have become, and are excited about what lies ahead for each of them.
WE LOVE YOU!!!
All the best… off you go!!