I remember the exact day my dreams were dashed.
I’d been dancing with Paci;c Northwest Ballet for over four years.
Having trained at the school, I’d been around long enough to know
how things worked—or at least I thought I did. As a child, I’d sat in
the red velvet seats of the opera house and watched this company of
extraordinary dancers perform beautiful ballets. I saved every program and collected well-worn pointe shoes in the hope that one day I
might see my name in those programs, I might have my own shoes to
sign away to some little girl. I dreamed of being Clara or Cinderella. I
dreamed of being a ballerina.
Fast-forward a few years, and the dream was coming true: I received my apprentice contract to dance with PNB, and the door seemed
wide open with every opportunity laid out before me. Principal dancer,
here I come! Because, let’s be honest, what dancer says, “When I grow
up, I want to be in the corps de ballet”?
But as senior corps parts kept going to newer or younger dancers,
that optimistic open door seemed like a mirage. At ;rst, I’d rationalize
away my feelings, making up any excuse, any story to keep the door
open. Yet with every passing rep, disappointment hit.
Finally, my confusion and frustration reached a boiling point. So I
did something crazy: I sought the truth.
In ballet we’re used to wearing next to nothing onstage, but I never
felt more naked than on that November day when I went into my di-
rector’s of;ce and laid it all out. Humbly, vulnerably, honestly, I asked
him why I kept being overlooked.
His response? He didn’t see me as anything more than a corps
Those words were heartbreaking, but they were also freeing. Telling
the truth is not always easy, nor is hearing it, but it is always good. I
now knew where I stood. And a ;ghter at heart, I told him that while I
appreciated his honesty, I respectfully reserved the right to prove him
wrong. And boy did I try!
With an attitude of determination, I continued to push myself, and
was constantly in his of;ce asking to learn parts, asking to dance more.
And while at ;rst this approach seemed to pay off with new opportuni-
ties, the change was ;eeting. His mind was already made up.
I wish I had a fairy-tale ending to this story: The underdog dances,
proves her worth and her dream of principal dancer comes true.
Instead, this June, after performing for 12 years professionally, I took
my ;nal bow on the PNB stage. There was no petal drop, no gala or
fanfare. There rarely is for a career corps dancer.
And while at times I do wrestle with those whispers of inadequacy,
I mostly re;ect on my career with pride and overwhelming gratitude.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have. But that mentality will poison
every aspect of this gift we’ve been given: to be a dancer, to dance.
I don’t deserve this life I’ve lived. Sure, I’ve worked hard—I’ve
sweat, and bled and cried—but so have countless others. And we all
have dreams and aspirations.
in the Corps
Finding the beauty in life as one of the
Wilis and peasants BY JESSIKA ANSPACH MCELIECE