In 2013 I had just opened my studio and was very drawn to women in the media who were entrepreneurial. Whilst flicking through Marie Claire Magazine I came across a spread for their business awards and in it a photo of a tall brunette in a stunning, floor-length, white dress. From that moment I was obsessed with Australian jewellery designer Samantha Wills and followed her business journey as a constant source of inspiration whilst growing my own business.
Recently whilst reading Samantha’s incredible memoir I came across a small (but rather significant!) part of her story that made me feel all the feelings. In this part of her story, Samantha describes her then boyfriend as someone who casually brought up in conversation that he preferred brunettes. It didn’t take long before Samantha traded her famous blonde locks for the brunette ones that debuted in those same photos I saw from the Marie Claire awards.
I remember looking at those photos thinking that Samantha looked like the coolest and most stunning woman I’d ever seen. However I also remember when she changed her hair back to blonde I thought she looked somehow more like herself. Which is interesting because in Samantha’s memoir she describes that time as a brunette as one of the saddest in her life. Not because of her hair colour, but because she was so deeply in love that she didn’t see how it was changing her essence, influencing her passions and navigating her away from who she was.
I remember a time almost seven years ago now when a man I was dating for just over eight months casually asked me over lunch to move across the country for him. We had been dating long-distance and in hindsight this suited me just fine because deep down I must have known to keep him at a distance.
Something didn’t feel right, but I was in love and mesmerised by his charm and I would often take his advice. It started off with small things like ordering for me (because he said he knew what I’d like) and telling me to change clothes (because what I was wearing didn’t suit the restaurant we were going to) until all these small things eventually turned into big things, like the request to move across the country to live with him.
In hindsight, I was being groomed. There was never a discussion about building a life together, it was always about me fitting into his life. At lunch that day I’m sure he thought I was ready for the big question, that he’d put in enough work that I would just go along with the plan. I responded, “What about my studio?” and he replied, “What about it? You can start another little ballet thing in Adelaide if you want… ” In that moment I realised this man had no idea who I was, what I did or what my passions were.
You know those moments in life when you feel like someone has just dumped an entire bucket of icy cold water on your head and you’re awake for the first time in ages?! Well that’s exactly how I felt and I told him that I’d be giving up absolutely nothing for someone who wasn’t even willing to meet me half-way, let alone someone who didn’t respect my work and passions. There was no way in hell that I’d be moving across the country with him. The relationship ended very shortly after.
So why am I sharing this with you? What has it got to do with my work, ballet? Well, I’m a little worried about some of my teenage students…
You see, I never had boyfriends as a teenager. Having one never even crossed my mind. I dated ballet. Ballet was my boyfriend. So every now and then when I have a cohort of students that seem to be getting boyfriends I get a little… confused. But nether-less it’s something that I have to deal with as a teacher of young women despite my lack of experience in the topic of young love.
Falling in love is one of the most beautiful experiences we can have as a human. Falling in love for the first time can especially be incredibly intoxicating, thrilling and exciting! It’s not that I don’t want my teenage students to fall in love, I just want them to fall in love without loosing their sense of self. Falling in and out of love whilst maintaining my own sense of self was hard enough as a twenty-something year old. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be as a teenager.
There’s now been too many occasions that students who quit dance as teenagers have come back to me as adults to tell their story…
Recently a student who I taught as a teenager came back to participate in adult ballet classes. After class she asked me, “Why did you let me give up? I forgot how much I loved to dance…” I replied, “You were so headstrong about giving up. You’d entered high-school, got a boyfriend who didn’t think ballet was cool, so you gave your Mum and I a lot of grief when you chose to give it all away.” I wanted to say, I didn’t let you give up ballet, you gave up on yourself but thought it was a little harsh.
There’s been multiple versions of this conversation in my foyer over the years and every time I can’t help but notice the regret wash over their faces. It truly breaks my heart. However I’m grateful that I have the space for them to come back and rekindle their romance with ballet. Not the same could be said for many other dancers around the world – adult classes are few and far between.
One suggestion I can make is to any parents that may be reading this; when I’m caught in the midst of the parent and daughter discussion about giving up on dance over a boy I can’t help but notice that parents are afraid of their daughter disliking them. Well guess what? It’s kind of your job as a parent to make decisions that they’re not going to like and yes it’s going to be incredibly difficult! However as my own Mum always says, I’m not your friend, I’m your Mum.
So I guess I’m writing this in the hope that it reminds young women to always choose themselves first and perhaps listen to their mothers and teachers. This is how I felt when reading Samantha’s memoir. I was reminded to not loose myself ever again. There’s room for multiple loves in your life (ballet and boys!) but if the boy is making you choose only one then perhaps it’s a good idea to ditch the boy. I know, brutal advice! I know, easier said than done! Which is why I shared my own personal story before.
Thankfully I have a partner these days that not only supports my passions but also encourages my hopes and dreams that make me the woman I am today. Five years ago I asked the guy I had only been dating for a few months to attend my TED Talk about ballet and he’s stuck around ever since. He wasn’t threatened by my passion. It made him fall more in love with me. And that’s the way it should be…
Check in with yourself. Regularly and often. Falling in love (especially for the first time!) can be an incredibly exciting time but be mindful of comments that may alter the essence of who you truly are. Yes, some people most definitely fall out of love with ballet organically but in my experience if it happens sudden (and with a new boy on the scene) it’s often a false truth.
As always, I only wish the best for my ballerinas. And all I can do is be here for them when they return to the barre…
Grit & Grace,