“When I grow up, I want to be a ballerina. And after a few performances, I will be a ballet teacher.”
–Me, age eight. August/September, 1993.
At the beginning of my third grade year in Mr. Fahey’s class, one of our assignments was to draw a picture of what we want to be when we grow up and write about it. I didn’t have to ponder my future career ambition at all. I’d been taking tap and ballet class since I was six years old and loved it. Moving to music felt completely natural to me, I loved learning new steps, and I always felt like I was good at it. I was hungry to learn steps outside of class, so I would watch the older, more advanced dancers on my dance recital tapes and copy their movements in the empty floorspace in the living room. Even though I was shy and wasn’t very talkative, I loved performing in front of people at recitals and showing my family the dances I made up by myself in my bedroom. Sometimes I even asked if I could perform in the living room for company that my parents invited over. Performing and creating movement felt as natural as breathing did. I just had to do it.
On that warm, sunny day in 1993, I busted out my colored pencils and drew a picture of myself wearing a magenta romantic tutu and a light pink, long-sleeved (I think) leotard. I wore pink pointe shoes, even though to this day, I’ve never danced en pointe. My long, dark blond hair hung down past my shoulders and was curly. I have naturally straight hair, but back then I would put my hair in foam rollers to curl it for special occasions, and dancing, of course, was always a special occasion. (Until the following June, I never had to wear a bun in my hair for ballet and never knew that it was the standard ballerina hairstyle. My hair was either in a ponytail, half up/half down, or French braided.) If I remember correctly, I was holding an arabesque position with my arms en haut, with my left leg as the supporting leg and my right leg as the gesture leg. I was dancing in an open field, with lots of green grass and brightly colored flowers–tulips, I think–blooming all around me. The vast sky was the most beautiful shade of sky blue, one of my favorite colors in Crayola’s colored pencil box. I don’t remember if I drew the sun shining in the picture, but the sun was definitely shining as this ballerina danced in her outdoor paradise.
Below this colored pencil masterpiece (in my eight-year-old eyes), I wrote the words you read at the beginning of this blog post. I wrote something else about dancing between those two sentences, but I don’t remember what. However, I do remember writing that last sentence about teaching at the end of my enthusiastic declaration.
My creativity knew no bounds for this assignment. Every five minutes, or so it seemed, I would add another flourish with my colored pencils and excitedly ask Mr. Fahey to come look at what I did. I was so proud of my work, simply because it was mine and I had no doubts in my mind that someday, this ambition of my youth would become a reality. I just knew it.
Even though I loved dancing, I fell in love with two other art forms during my third grade year. Shortly after the “What I want to be when I grow up” assignment, Mr. Fahey showed me the joy that creative writing can bring. I penned the first of many fiction stories that year about everything from quadruplet sisters to not sleeping at night to talking animals. I also wrote and illustrated my autobiography (it was very short), dabbled in rhyming poetry, experimented briefly with news reporting when my church’s sanctuary burned up in a fire on Easter weekend, and faithfully kept a journal about whatever random topics I felt like writing about, which I still do to this day. Even writing reports for regular school assignments was fun and did not feel like work at all.
The other art form I fell for (pun intended) was figure skating.
Figure skating captivated me that February, shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics aired on television. On February 5, 1994, “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends”, an exhibition featuring Nancy Kerrigan and some of her skating friends as they celebrated her recovery from a severe knee injury, was on TV. My mom taped it. The skating itself absolutely amazed me. I thought Nancy was the best skater in the world, based on her performances in that show, and I wanted to learn how to do everything that she did. I admired Elaine Zayak’s graceful performance as well, and after seeing how the silver sequins and beads on her royal blue skating dress sparkled and how her skirt moved so freely with every movement of hers, I decided that I wanted to wear a dress exactly like it. Paul Wylie’s expressiveness and clean skating style made me want to see more of it. Scott Hamilton’s solid skating skills and ability to entertain were second to none, and he won me over as one of his biggest fans. I don’t know why Mom taped that show, because she had never taped skating on TV before, but I was (and still am) glad that she did.
For some reason, Mom taped the ladies’ singles and ice dance 1994 Olympic coverage on that same tape, as well as the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. Coverage of the 1994 Worlds gave me my first exposure to Michelle Kwan. She instantly became a favorite of mine and still is. Alas, after Worlds ended, there was no more room left on the tape to record anything else. I watched that tape over and over and over again for years, even in junior high. I still have that tape, but since junior high I’ve been afraid that it will fall apart if I try to watch it again.
After watching “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends”, I decided right away that I wanted to be a figure skater. However, that dream was a longshot. The only ice rink nearby was about 30 minutes away by car, and it was outdoor and only open during the winter. Not to mention the fact that in the three previous winters that Mom took me skating, I was so scared of falling that I held onto the wall the whole time. However, I was eight years old, head over heels in love with skating, and was not to be deterred or discouraged by such trivial obstacles. I decided to go ahead and learn as many jumps, spins, and other moves as I could by watching that tape and imitating what I saw. I practiced jumps by jumping off of chairs in the living room (when everyone else was in different rooms of the house) and off the slide in my backyard so that I had enough hang time to try to rotate in the air. When Mom wasn’t home, I would put on my cheap, plastic roller skates and try to skate in the house. (I had told Grandma C. that Mom was okay with me doing that. I only did this one time.) I would put on my leotard, tights, and ballet skirt that I wore to dance class, put on my skates, and stand on my welcome mat in my room so that I could feel like a real figure skater (Mom would only let me wear my skates on the mat so that the blades wouldn’t snag the carpet). At school, I unintentionally got Jackie, one of my best friends, hooked on figure skating (and dance; she let me teach her how to tap dance), and day after day during recess we would watch each other “figure skate” on this flat slab of concrete on the playground.
That year, after seeing the Olympics and falling under figure skating’s magic spell, I was a different person. I suppose seeing how beautiful figure skating could be literally changed my life, because I finally let go of the wall the next time I went skating.
Little did I know where that small step of courage and my new passion would lead me in the years to come.