On a sweltering day in August of 2009 a hundred or so ballet teachers in training at American Ballet Theatre’s New York City flagship facility shuffled back into muggy Studio 9 on ABT’s 4th floor following an hour lunch break; it was difficult to hear much except the clang of metal folding chairs over the death rattle of the ancient window air conditioners. From the start of the training session a few days earlier the iconic Raymond Lukens—co-creator of ABT’s National Training Curriculum, and our mentor at the teacher training—had fiddled each morning with a tiny, wireless mic attached to his t-shirt collar, bellowing, “This is the voice of GOD!” to get our attention. Smiles and giggles all around.
Now he was wearing his Serious Hat. As we all settled down he tapped on the mic and began speaking. “It has been brought to my attention,” he began, “that some of you are uncomfortable standing up and demonstrating classroom work in our small group sessions, that this exercise is embarrassing and making you nervous.” <Pregnant pause, and penetrating stare, with slightest hint of a sardonic grin.> He continued: “You have no choice except to get over it,” allowing this to sink in for a moment before he went on to explain that this exercise had been optional with the inaugural group of trainees the prior summer, and that there was a marked difference in examination scores among the trainees who elected not to participate in the exercise.
You have no choice. Funny that a sentiment so seemingly disconnected from classical ballet training would leave such a profound and lasting impression on me. But those four words have seen me through some difficult times in my recent past—times that one of my very best friends would say were fraught with peril. Indeed. And we have no choice except to soldier on; better that than the alternative.
So many among my friends and family—and even complete strangers—have mentioned to me how brave I am to embark on this journey, how my story inspires them. Each time I hear that I feel humbled and flattered that anyone would think this about me. And then I am scared down to my socks, because there are still so many questions about my decision to uproot myself at the half-century mark in my life and move a thousand miles from the place I have called home for three decades, thinking I could make a go of it. Here is the reality: it might not work. I still have some huge hurdles to clear, sometimes with only a vague plan, but I intend to make every effort to stay focused on the prize. And what is that? Financial solvency. A tiny bit of security. Peace of mind. Not spending every waking moment of the day biting my fingernails because there are too many moving parts. But the very notion that I have no choice—except to try to make things work—continues to fuel forward motion, however foolhardy this vague plan may be. Time will tell.
The last couple of weeks have exposed a new challenge for me that is significant, and emphatically not what I was hoping for. I am working on a solution; I still can’t quite see the end yet. There is no way in hell I will throw in the towel and quit. No way. I have no choice. (And thank you, Raymond—you have no idea.)
Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices, so her brain was often filled with images of pulleys, levers, and gears, and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning