70: How I Got My Wings

70: How I Got My Wings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

How I Got My Wings

Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

~Oliver Goldsmith

An enormous black curtain hid me from a buzzing crowd. Artistic directors from ballet companies around the world, benefactors, parents, and supporters of the arts shuffled into the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, anticipating a spectacular performance. At seventeen, this night was the moment I had been training for my entire life. It was my first Workshop performance at the School of American Ballet and I had the honor of dancing a lead role. I stretched and warmed up my feet backstage. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. My heart was beating so rapidly I thought it would pop out of my chest. I said a little prayer as I heard my cue in the music.

A rush of adrenaline shot through my body as I bolted from the wings and took my place at the center of the stage, with the corps posed behind me. I told myself, “Just go for it,” and started my first variation as the Russian Girl in George Balanchine’s world-renowned Serenade. I pushed off the floor as hard as I could and flew into the air. I started to come down for my landing on one leg, preparing to jump again, but my foot slipped out from under me and I fell, face-first. The entire audience gasped as my body smacked the stage. Backstage, other dancers ran to the wings to see if I was hurt, if I was going to get up.

For a moment I couldn’t move. I was utterly humiliated. My hands began to shake and I contemplated whether I should even get up to finish my variation. It seemed like I was lying there for ten minutes, but it must have only been a couple of seconds. Trained for thousands of hours over more than a dozen years, my muscles ignored the hesitation of my mind and I found myself back on my feet. I finished the variation and left the stage. Suddenly short of breath, backstage I tried to keep my balance. I was lightheaded and felt like a fifty-pound weight had been dropped on my chest. My friends rushed to my side to see if I was okay. I bent over a table, fighting back tears, trying to breathe. I didn’t want to go back onstage to finish the last twenty minutes of the ballet. I wanted to take off my costume, hang it on the rack and leave the theater. I didn’t deserve a lead role. I was a complete failure.

I slowly got enough strength back in my body to drag myself to the wings for my next entrance. As I wiped away tears, one of my best friends gave me a hug and said, “The worst thing that can happen on stage is to fall. You’ve gotten it over with, so what’s left for you to lose? You have nothing to be afraid of anymore. Just go out there, give it your all, and live in the moment.” At that instant, I realized that everyone falls down in life. If you dwell on the fall, you will be stuck on the ground and never get back up.

I went back onstage and completely let go of myself. I felt free, without a single worry. I just danced. I danced without holding anything back. I let the music grab my heart and guide me through the movement. This was a sensation I had never felt before. After the show, the exhilaration dissipated and my disappointment returned. I had fallen during the most important performance of my life. Then my mentor, the great Balanchine ballerina Suki Schorer, ran up to me and told me it was the best she had ever seen me dance. “Balanchine used to love it when his dancers fell,” she said, “because that meant that they were really going for it.”

I learned that day that falling is scary, and sometimes it seems like it is easier just to stay on the ground. But if we never get up, we never experience what it is like to fly. Now, as a Principal Dancer with the Los Angeles Ballet, I think about that performance every time I stand in the wings waiting for my cue. I want to be an artist who has no restrictions, completely abandoned to the passion that takes over my dancing. The fear of falling shouldn’t keep us from living life to the fullest. We fall down when we try our hardest. There is no shame in that, only pride. And we can learn to get right back up.

~Allyssa Bross

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