Updated: May 17
Soloist with the Berlin State Ballet
Becoming a ballet dancer was not really my decision, and becoming a soloist has never been the main goal in my professional life. And yet I find my self as just that, a soloist for one of the most renowned companies, the Berlin State Ballet.
When asked to share my experience of being promoted, without thinking much I agreed. But shortly after that, I realized that I didn't really know where to start. I didn't see what made my story special or worth sharing and found my self rewriting it over and over again, trying to find its essence, and peel off the layers of unnecessary irrelevance. The thought that stuck with me was that I never had my eyes set on the ranks or status, and never has it been the source of my motivation. So how did I get promoted and what was it that I was focusing on?
It has taken me 10 years of dancing in one company to become a soloist. But really, it's taken me 10 years of self-development and growth as a person and overcoming some tough physical and emotional obstacles.
My first promotion came relatively unexpectedly, but not without plenty of hard work and numerous opportunities to dance little solo roles. I was promoted to demi-soloist after my second season in Berlin. At first, I was shocked and filled with joy but it didn't take me long before I became overwhelmed with self-doubt.
I've always been a highly driven and motivated individual on the search for constant self-improvement. The daily grind of a ballet dancer has been a source of joy in itself for me. As long as I was given the chance to work on roles or pieces that challenged and inspired me, I was happy. My new position as a demi-soloist didn't really change the perception I had of myself. While the promotion could have been a validation of self-worth as a dancer, it soon began to weigh down on me. The inner struggle of having to prove myself increased along with the feeling of never being good enough. And while it didn't take away my love for dancing it definitely overshadowed the joy of it in the form of self-destructive criticism.
However, despite all of this, my career continued to go well and my hard work was being noticed and rewarded with more new roles and performance opportunities. Little did I know, that a life-changing moment was just about to creep up on me and prevent me from dancing a role that could have been a career breakthrough.
The day before the company's premiere of Forsythe's Herman Schmerman where I was cast to perform alongside Berlin's principals Polina Semionova and Shoko Nakamura, I got severely injured-- a dislocated knee cap and ripped ligament which resulted in me being almost immediately brought to surgeon's operating table. Instead of waking up with the feeling of "glory" after my premiere I woke up with a set of crutches next to my bed as I was unable to move my leg. The surgeon, a top knee specialist, saw very little chance for a full recovery.
Not only did I lose 10 months of dancing but I was about to lose ballet altogether. What should have been a breakthrough in my career was about to turn into one of the hardest tests of my life, challenging my emotional maturity and strength of character.
It only took about a day or two post-surgery for me to shift my focus and to decide to fully let go of my feeling of frustration and unfairness that I had experienced. Instead, I wanted to concentrate solely on my recovery process and never, not for one-second doubt whether I was going to get better or not. It was a very long and hard process filled with many ups and downs and with countless hours of physiotherapy where I had to relearn how to walk, run, and eventually dance again. But most importantly it was the time of a big transformation for me as a person. The injury became a catalyst for a series of ongoing changes for me that continued long after my rehabilitation which turned out to be essential in allowing me to fully bloom as a dancer. I came back stronger than ever, my mind braced in new armor.
I was now able to truly understand just how much I loved to dance and what it meant to me. I also found a new way of getting rid of the self-harming and destructive tendency for perfectionism and instead, transformed it into constructive criticism. I started to build myself up instead of tearing myself down, choosing to enjoy my dancing to the fullest and at every moment whether it be on stage or off stage. To dance for the pure joy that it brings me with no added pressure of having to please anybody else but myself.
It's now 7 years since the day of my accident and though there have still been some bumps and struggles along the way, no matter how hard or difficult it has gotten, I always continue to keep moving forward and to keep rediscovering the feeling of bliss that dancing gives me. It seems to me that this has been the secret to my professional and personal growth. That by gradually breaking out from the limitations I was unknowingly confining myself to, I allowed myself to reach a new level in my dancing and artistry which unnoticeably brought me to the soloist position last season-- as if the promotion was the side effect of my transformation as a person and a dancer.