At that very moment, I knew that the whole world was mine.
The music, the lights, the applause — everything that any girl could dream of — just for me.
The whole Albert Hall was looking at me. And I was not thinking about pointing my foot the right way. Or stretching my arm perfectly. Or giving the audience that charming smile that my coaches taught me.
All I knew was: I am being myself, I am living a story and from the first beat of the orchestra I was writing that story. Yes, what I just wrote sounds like a wonderful fairytale and a perfect childhood.
A little girl who grew up being a dancer, who traveled around the world, wore dresses worth thousands of dollars, and just enjoyed herself.
It is true to some extent.
Except, there is always another side of the story
That other side starts when I was 5. I did ice skating back then and my parents never even thought that I would be a dancer. To be a professional in ice skating you needed to have a good base of dance moves.
And be well stretched, so I ended up taking some classes in a local dance school.
Time was passing by and my dance coaches noticed that I wasn’t like other kids. I would put less effort but still succeed because I wasn’t doing it professionally but just for the fact to stretch myself.
I enjoyed it way more than other kids did.
They told my parents that I had a talent (interesting, considering that I wasn’t trying at all). My mom’s brother was a dancer himself so my mom knew what all that dancer’s life was about.
A beautiful, effortless picture for others and a hellish experience To me
However, my mother decided that I should quit ice skating for whatever stupid reason it is cold on the ice arena and I can get sick and get into dancing.
I was never sad about it because as a kid I liked trying new things, which is why I did so many sports.
Only dancing stuck with me till the end.
So, here I am, a baby who looks like a donut I was a fat kid entering a dance studio.
That was my first dance studio; I still remember those walls and mirrors all over them, where the washroom and changing rooms were located, the coach room, the speakers.
At that moment I had no idea that this room was going to change my whole life.
I am going to skip all the dramatic emotional crap and just get to the part where the first hellish experience started.
Not only was I a fat kid, but I also never had the type of feet a dancer needs to have.
My feet were a bear type of feet — clumsy and club-footed, never pointing the right way, never stretched enough they just weren’t good enough, simple as that.
Whatever I did, I couldn’t get them together into a coherent whole that would work the right way.
And stand near the wall in the first position.
Imagine turning your feet some way that they make a line, or making a 90 degree with your leg, or just simply google what first ballet position is.
Just so I’m clear — it hurts.
It hurts less with time because your feet stretch and it is for your own good.
And it makes you a better dancer and blah blah blah.
But do you think I at the age of 6 was understanding any of that?
All I did was complain to my mom and cry and call my coaches names, run away from the dance hall, and swear to God that I am never dancing again.
I did not know that pain is the way to success and only after going through suffering you can be better.
I know that now and that is why I am forever grateful that my mom did not like the ice arena.
Me stretching my feet every day was the easiest thing I do, I was Also Fat
I also needed to lose weight and be in shape — once again, I was a fat kid.
That meant no soda, no french fries, no chocolate, no sweets and trust me, I get it, It was for my own damn good.
But there is nothing worse in this world than seeing a kid who is crying because she cannot eat bread.
Once again, forever grateful to my mom for going through that and hiding chocolate bars from me.
Forgot to mention, I was in school.
Moreover, I needed to be good at academics.
My schedule looked something like this: I would wake up at 6 AM, go to school, finish classes at 3 PM, go to the dance studio and train 6 hours a day, until I get back home around 11 pm and no, no sleep, but do my math homework.
I needed to.
There was no such thing as “going out with friends,” “going to the movies”, etc.
Tears and Disappointment
It brought a lot of tears and disappointment but also showed me that you need to give up one thing to get another one.
By now you are wondering if my parents are tyrants . . . no.
Moving on from calloused feet and absence of time and chocolate — there was such a thing as emotions.
Hate that thing.
You are thinking, I probably do not have any problems with being dramatic, huh.
You are wrong.
Try showing love and passion at the age of 8 to your dance partner who you have seen picking his nose.
Try showing happiness when your day was absolutely disgusting and you quite literally want to die.
Try showing anger and disappointment when the only cheating situation you have ever experienced was your teddy bear sleeping with your mom instead of you.
The fallacy of Living to Please
Not only did I need to show emotions while dancing, but I also needed to have good real-life relationships with my dance partner.
By the way, I had three partners in my dance career.
In order to be good partners you need to have this connection thingy, whatever that is, and it better be good.
I needed to listen to my partner and vice versa the sad part, I couldn’t even hit him
We needed to talk and solve issues by talking. Who on God’s green earth does that???
Although dancing seems very effortless to most people, it is never effortless.
There is nothing easy about dancing.
For instance, a couple of times a year we had trips with our dancing studio.
Basically, we would go to some nice spa resort for 2 or 3 weeks and we would train 24/7.
Trust me, you do not want to go there.
I Had No Choice
When you are 10, there is nothing that can make you wake up at 5 am and go for an hour-long run on stairs, back and forth.
I just did not have a choice.
Dancing was a commitment: full-time and long-term commitment.
At times you would lose yourself, lose your hope, and your goal if you have one.
You would start asking yourself “why am I even here?”.
Sounds really extra, but only the strongest actually achieve something.
Living that dancer’s life, I saw many people leaving because they got bored or it was too hard for them, not even knowing what a special talent they had and that they might lose it.
Keeping yourself in shape mentally was hellish and that no one sees under all of that glitter and makeup.
Relationships with my mom and my coach were always important to me, for obvious reasons.
Neither of them was ever “nice”.
Not Nice to Kids
My coach was one of the best coaches in Ukraine for that very reason — he wasn’t nice to kids.
He always wore a pin on his neck and if kids would misbehave or not be in shape.
He would take that pin and prick you in your stomach.
Well, not actually hurt you, but he will try doing it and because of reflexes your muscles would strain immediately and that was the goal.
He would also yell at you and throw empty bottles if you are being lazy.
My mom, on the other side, would never say that I did well.
Don’t get me wrong — I really was good.
I was always on the pedestal and most likely first or second.
Still, she would never praise me or say how good I am.
She wanted me to be better and push harder.
How I Dealt With All the Bullshit And Misconceptions
The next thing was dealing with all the bullshit and misconception from my surroundings.
Every single kid thinks it’s his job to tell me that dancing is “just dancing”, “it’s not a sport”, “it’s easy” and many many more.
I understand now that I should have never cared about what other people think of me, but the sport is like politics.
People bribe judges, spread rumors, make forums where they discuss dancers, and on top of it all — you cannot do anything about it, it’s just the way it is.
Every time I won a competition, someone would say that my dad paid for it (when in reality he was in Brazil on a business conference), every time I would miss a competition — people would say I broke my leg or died or whatever.
Do you think this is crazy?
I know it is.
A bunch of adults wasting their miserable lives on writing shit about children on dance forums.
To quote one of my favorite songs, “nowadays, I don’t know where the world spins…”.
Dealing with all the hate and misunderstanding and attention I got at the age of eleven is hard. It’s all worth it in the end.
Facing Loss as An Ambitious Child
For an ambitious kid like me, the idea of losing to someone is the worst.
Not only I would lose, but most of the time it wouldn’t even be fair.
An example would be dancers whose parents are judges or big bosses in the industry; I think you know where I am going with this. Y
ou might think “losing one competition is not the end of your life, kid. Chill your guts.”.
Well, let me explain.
The amount of pressure on you while you are on the dance floor is crazy.
Mistakes are simply not allowed.
While waiting for the results you go over every move and step you made, start panicking, “what if I am not good enough”, “what if someone is better than me”.
And you just keep worrying until they announce the results.
After that, you have only two options: burst in tears of happiness or disappointment.
The Lessons Learned as I Grow Up
Where was I going with this… Oh! Once you grow up, you stop caring.
You understand that all the competitions are just a symbol for parents of how good their kids are so they can post a picture of you on Facebook and show off how proud they are.
You stop worrying about what other people think of you, you start worrying about getting better than you were yesterday.
Losing doesn’t matter anymore because for your own self you know you are a champ.
And you just keep grinding keep pushing harder and harder, still come to the studio an hour earlier because your feet are still clumsy.
Still train 4 to 6 hours each day and probably by that time you don’t even remember what bread tastes like.
The difference is — you don’t try proving anything to anyone anymore.
You train because through all of the pain and annoyance that comes with it — you love dancing.
Realization and understanding of this were the hardest.
Winning is not always the most important part of the process
If I ever get a chance to go back in time and change something, I would never change my childhood.
I don’t dance anymore, but I am proud to bring those videos of me dancing on my family dinner and just laugh at my still clumsy feet and a belly I had as a kid.
Sports turned me into a better version of myself: ambitious and stubborn little girl, who still hates losing
I didn’t digest that lesson but knows that only after a rain you can see a rainbow.
There is always another side.
Ana Lapatina analyzes current affairs and sometimes writes poetry. Born in Ukraine, studying in Canada. Find her on Instagram or Facebook