A Pequena Bailarina
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Last summer, as I sat by the departure gate at São Paulo airport ready to board on the next flight to London, I felt proud of the fact that I managed to say goodbye to my parents and not shed a tear. Saying our goodbyes has never been easy, even though we've done this for nearly twenty years. When it’s time to part, I hug them very tight, anticipating the long months of absence ahead, and when I see them disappearing on the other side, my tears overflow.
Perhaps this time I held on to the fact that I would return to Brazil very soon. September wasn’t a long time away. I’d be dancing as Kitri in two very special performances of Don Quixote in the south of the country, as a special guest! It would be a dream come true to perform a full length ballet back home, and a joy to be seeing my family and friends so soon.
In this relieved and hopeful state, I received a message from Paty, a dear old friend of mine. We started ballet together when we were little and had been inseparable for years, always paired up in the lessons for being the smallest in our group. I’d have lunch at her house almost every day after school before heading together to dance classes. We even took private English lessons together, and truthfully, I used to feel like I'd never master the language as she did. She was so smart and quick at remembering words.
Paty has always been amazing at everything she does. Good at math, excellent at drawing, and of course, a beautiful dancer too. I didn’t realise it at the time, but she was my constant motivator, pushing me to work even harder so I could be as good and graceful. Being of Japanese descent, she would introduce me to a culture I would come to love and admire, being the perfect example of focus, dedication, integrity. I wanted to be just like her.
Because of an injury, Paty had to stop dancing. As it turned out, she went on to study medicine and specialize in rehabilitation. She became an amazing physicist who'd help me through my own injuries. With me living abroad and our busy schedules, we may have lost touch over the years, but our friendship has always been cherished and our meetings in Brazil remained ever so special.
Paty has always been very thoughtful and full of surprises. I eagerly opened her messages thinking what these could be about and saw they were some old footages of me performing Clara in ‘A Christmas Dream’, our version of The Nutcracker. Also in the mix there were some performances we did for a tv show called Pequenos Brilhantes (‘Little shiny ones’).
There I was, in a cute white tutu, my hair in a high, sleek bun. I must have been around ten years old. The image was a bit blurred, probably because those had been VHS recordings, but the long legs and the smily face were unmistakable. I look like a mini-ballerina.
A flashback of those times recording on that programme came to my mind. I was always being told last minute what to do and had to improvise my way around. I remember very clearly to have been instructed that day to ‘use the space’ and watch the presenter for cues to move up or down. It wasn’t a proper stage but a tv set made of uneven platforms, a very slippery floor, extremely bright lights, and cameras pointing at us from all angles. Yet, I appear to be so at ease. How could I have been so happy?? And so confident??!
Year after year, I think of how different my life would have been had I not chosen ballet, if I were to do something else, or become something else. Many a times throughout my career, especially in days of a big farewell, I wondered if this was my true calling or if I struggled through because of sheer determination. But seeing this little ballerina on the screen gave me the answer I had been looking for. Finally, that day, my eyes were filled with tears. Not of sadness or regret, but tears of love and joy, for it was the greatest realisation of who I have always been and the precious gift I carry.
People are always asking me: “When did you decide you wanted to be a dancer??” I try to remember the exact moment I fell in love with ballet, I say that my mum was a dancer and that it was only natural for me to want to follow her footsteps. Did she push me into it? For many years I tried to convince myself that yes, she did. Could I have chosen such a life, full of sacrifices? But watching my young self, it hit me that I've always loved it, that I had been blessed with a talent that I've worked hard to develop, for talent alone is not enough.
It was not the little girl’s technique that impressed me. Ten-year-olds today can do a lot more than that. What blew me away was her musicality and the emotion she transpires. She is living it! She is everything I most admire in other dancers, she is an artist! It’s in the way she raises her chin up and looks at the audience with a genuine smile, how she is feeling the music and just doing things the best way she knows how, and seems not to care for what anyone may think. She's got that sparkle in her eyes, a special presence and confidence that has inspired me since.
In my recent performances in Porto Alegre, dancing the role of Kitri, I felt a similar energy, some may call inspiration, watching the young and talented dancers fearlessly dive into their roles and enjoy them. I managed to find that same courage within me, and be reminded of the magic that happens on stage when you simply let yourself be and "go with the flow", letting go of any criticisms. You feel like anything is possible, and it's the most enjoyable and rewarding experience.
I have my dear friend Paty to thank for yet another enlightening moment, for giving me reason to believe that there was no other path I could have taken, to strengthen my faith and belief that the most precious gifts we'll ever find are within us. Paty and her family committed themselves to watching me perform Kitri in Porto Alegre, which is an hour flight from Sao Paulo, cheering me own and witnessing the adult ballerina I have become.
And if I could,
I would go back
Each and every step
Along the path
That I have walked
On my journey
The video of the little ballerina.