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By: Camey VanSant

By Alícia

September 7, 2023. Turning 18.

Of all the things that come with this age: voting, driving, and becoming a legal adult with
all the rights and responsibilities it brings, what simultaneously excited and worried me the most
was the thought of my first trip entirely alone two days later.

I was eleven years old when I traveled for the first time without my parents. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was the youngest in the group of Brazilian dancers, none of whom I knew previously, embarking on a three-week intensive course in New York City, where we would learn with teachers of some of the most renowned ballet schools. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to visit amazing places around the world for international competitions and intensive courses, accompanied by my ballet coaches and teachers. Tampa, Boston, Faro, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, London, Birmingham, Stockholm – I returned home from each travel with baggage full of exciting new corrections to work on and improve my technique, enriched cultural and artistic awareness gained from exposure to new cities, people, and styles of dance, and an ever-growing sense of my passion for global education and connecting with an audience. Although such experiences had helped me develop significant independence and organizational skills (traveling often meant page-long to-do lists, makeup tests, and reviewing content for days), I had never traveled entirely by myself (the main reason being most lodging, such as hotels and Airbnb, do not accept unaccompanied minors).

Walking around De 9 Straatjes.

On September 9th, I hopped on a plane to Amsterdam for a two-week experience at the European School of Ballet. While I knew absolutely no one in the city and had never been there before except for connecting flights, what worried me was not getting around (although it did take me a couple of days to get used to catching the trams at the right stop, and I did almost get run over by cyclists a few times), but instead wanting to showcase the best possible version of myself during my time there. It was an unusual time of the year for exchange programs such as this, as I was not attending a summer course but instead would have the opportunity to take regular classes during their school year. I arrived on Sunday afternoon, not knowing what room, level, uniform, and lessons I would take the next day. At the same time, I was filled with overwhelming eagerness to learn as much as possible.

During my time there, which felt like more than two weeks due to the intense schedule, I took classes in Classical Ballet, Pointework, Pas de Deux, Audition Class, Stretching, and Body Conditioning from renowned teachers who had international careers at the Mariinsky Theater in Russia, the Paris Opera in France, Béjart Ballet in Switzerland, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Monaco, Slovak National Theater in Slovakia, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in Italy, and Dutch Nationale Opera in the Netherlands. With a timetable and teachers that changed each day, I had to quickly adapt to styles of ballet I was not used to taking classes in. Additionally, as I came from a very academic school environment, the atmosphere was significantly more company-like and fast-paced, challenging my ability to rapidly retain and apply information and corrections. Additionally, we learned variations from Sleeping Beauty, Onegin, La Esmeralda, Paquita, Little Humpback Horse, La Sylphide, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Marco Spada, Le Corsaire, La Cigarette, and La Bayadére, all very different pieces, stylistically speaking. The experience was akin to learning various roles in the repertoire as I would (and will have the opportunity to in January!) in a professional company. It allowed me to further develop my artistic side by learning about the fine particulars of the head, port de bras (movement of the arms), and epaulement (movement of the torso) that, while imperceptible to the untrained eye, makes a world of difference to conveying the story and scenario to an audience.

Intending to make their dancers even more versatile, students learned a contemporary piece by one of the school’s choreographers, and each student had to improvise parts of the choreography and make the solo unique. In an unfamiliar environment where everyone knew one another, and I was “the visitor,” it felt pretty intimidating when we were asked to perform the piece individually in front of the class. But I love a challenge, and I felt content to see my improvement and how I became more comfortable there each day that went by. What also stood out to me was learning David Dawson’s striking Metamorphosis, with heartfelt music by Phillip Glass, directly from his choreographic assistant, Christiane Marchant, who had recently staged the choreography for La Scala de Milan. Dawson’s one-of-a-kind style transforms classical movements into poetic and emotional choreography that plays on minimalism and curved lines with the body. His works make him widely acclaimed as one of the most influential modern choreographers, and learning the specificities of his style has undoubtedly contributed to my artistic development as a dancer whose ultimate goal is to experiment with the wordless language of choreography to convey emotions and build rapport with the audience.

Another trip highlight was watching the Dutch National Opera’s premiere production of Four Temperaments, a gala evening including novel works by Ted Brandsen and Juanjo Arqués and two masterpieces of the iconic George Balanchine and Hans van Manen. I got to see star dancers such as Maya Makhateli, Anna OI, and the Brazilian Victor Caixeta perform, which was an experience I will never forget!

At the Dutch National Opera House, watching the production of Four Temperaments.

Throughout this two-week immersion, I could see visible improvement from day to day, and even more significantly, I returned home feeling inspired and motivated to work even harder, applying what I learned. I met fantastic dancers from all over the world, including my roommates from the US and Italy, and fostered friendships I hope to keep in contact with for years to come. The experience also encouraged significant personal maturing in terms of valuable life skills and challenging my limits and fears in traveling for the first time by myself and being exposed to an unfamiliar environment. It also enhanced my global awareness by immersing me in a new culture and meeting people from many different countries, all united by a shared passion for dance. Fundamentally, learning new styles and forms of communication through art and movement is connected to my purpose of being: My life revolves around a root desire to impact individuals in some way. I am so excited for my next adventures this year!!

Categories: Alícia