For two years, I was a Trainee with a professional ballet company which meant I spent about six hours a day at the studio. We took daily technique class, pointe, partnering, as well as modern, character, musical theatre, all on top of rehearsing for shows. It was a busy, fun, exciting two years. The friends I made there are some of my closest companions, and, due to how much time I spent with them in the studio, we came to know each other extremely well. There was one thing though, a thing that really makes me, me, that they were surprised to discover one afternoon at the studio. It was something unexpected about me, something that didn’t align with my ballerina lifestyle, something a lot of people think is weird and even gross, but it is something that defines me nonetheless. Allow me to explain…
One afternoon, the trainees were rehearsing in the most beautiful studio in the building. It’s on the top floor, with a corner of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a park and the river. It catches the perfect amount of sunset glow and casts it on the walls of the studio, filling it with this golden, shimmering light. We were rehearsing a ballet choreographed for us by one of the ballet masters. It was a tribute ballet, paying respect to all the old “white ballets” full of romance and fairies and magic and softness. The ballet paid homage to these classics, like Giselle, Swan Lake, etc. We were trying to dance even more gracefully than usual, really be classical ballerinas.
There we were, chassé-ing and boureé-ing in the evening light, feeling like angels, when a spider silently walked out into the middle of the studio. It was a mid-sized little guy, no bigger than a quarter. Nothing ruins the heavenly mood of a ballet studio at sunset more than an ugly bug joining the party. Once he was seen by another trainee, the dancing stopped, and a chain of gasps, grimaces and screams followed as everyone laid eyes upon the eight-legged intruder.
Now, for some reason, I’ve always lacked that normal dislike of creepy-crawlies. In fact, I’ve always really liked them! I spent countless hours as a little girl holding the insects I found in my backyard, letting them crawl over my hands and watching them with delight. It wasn’t a personality trait that I usually announced though. When going around the room, introducing ourselves at any dance camp or first day of school, I never dared say, “Hi, I’m Emily and I like to dance, and I also love bugs!” That would be a little weird. So, I kept my fascination with insects to myself.
However, at that moment, when all of the dancers encircled around the tiny creature, and our teacher stopped the music, this love of spiders, caterpillars, beetles, and ants kicked in. It squished its way up past my desire to appear ‘normal’ and ‘cool’. All of a sudden, I was a little kid in my backyard again. I stepped into the circle surrounding the spider, squatted down, and let the spider crawl into my hand. Some people grimaced or widened their eyes or even said “Gross!” But I just continued to make my way to the door.
“Where are you going with that?!” someone asked, surprised.
“To let him go,” I replied, not taking my eyes off my new friend. I walked down to the first floor of the building and let the harmless, frightened spider tentatively crawl out of my hands and back outside. I smiled as I watched him go.
I walked back into the studio to a smattering of awestruck expressions. Everyone was looking at me in amazement.
“How’d you do that?” “You’re so brave!” “Oh my gosh, I could never have done that!” “Weren’t you scared it would bite you?!”
A mixture of questions and statements like those flowed into me. I was surprised, too! Instinct had just taken over; it wasn’t like I thought I was doing anything revolutionary or outrageous by releasing the spider back outside. But then I remembered- this trait of mine was really unique to only me. Most likely, my fellow dancers did not share the same adoration of little, multi-legged, antenna-clad animals that I did.
After the initial awe had settled, we got back to rehearsing. I jumped back into ballerina mode. In the back of my mind, I wrestled with feeling embarrassed at being the “bug girl” as well as being kind of pleased with myself for saving a spider who had lost his way. It was hard to concentrate on the steps and making them look graceful at that point.
After the rehearsal, our ballet master, a tall and scary man with a slight British accent, marched up to me with his hands behind his back and whispered to me, “Nice work with that spider.” I smiled.
From that point on, I became my company’s resident bug-rescuer. I came to know the signs of a bug in the studio: a group’s eyes would shoot to the floor, all feet would scoot back quickly, and there would be a chorus of yucks around the room. I would saunter over and examine the specimen, calmly guide the insect into my hands, and proudly walk out to let it go. My reputation as creepy-crawly savior extended to everyone and I found myself being called upon many times in classes and rehearsals after that to scoop and release spiders, moths, and beetles. Instead of gross or weird, my peers viewed my funny admiration of insects and arachnids as cool! Being the “bug girl” wasn’t a bad thing after all!
One great thing that stemmed out of my new position at the studio was very unexpected. Other dancers saw me unafraid to handle the tiny intruders, and some of them came to be less scared of bugs! Some of them even asked to hold some of the rescued creatures I would pick up. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see my love of bugs pass on to others. I felt like I was representing the bug world, acting as an advocate for them, in the most uncommon place for them to be.
I guess what I would advise you to take away from this is don’t be nervous to be the “bug kid” or the “sports kid” or the “nerd kid” at your studio. Those weird, unexpected qualities make you who you are as a dancer! My interest in insects got me a pretty cool job at the studio that I never thought I’d have, and it also felt awesome to share another one of my passions with my friends and teachers.
Emily Strickland is a professional ballet dancer and writer from Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is currently dancing with Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, where she’s had the opportunity to perform ballets like The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake, as well as in a collaborative performance with Cirque du Soleil. Previously she was an artist at Columbia Classical Ballet and a trainee at Richmond Ballet, where she was the featured soloist in Connor Frain’s premiere piece “Inertia”. She has trained with Richmond Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence, Nashville Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition, she is a ballet instructor at Avery Ballet.
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