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Embracing the Unscripted: My Experiment in Spontaneity

By: Camey VanSant

By Alícia

On December 31st, 2023, I decided that my principal resolution for the forthcoming year would be to embrace any opportunity life threw in my path, welcome unplanned moments open-heartedly, and learn to let go at times of rigid plans and immutable schedules to live a little more spontaneously.

Easier said than done, of course, especially for someone like me, who, apart from having a naturally methodical way of existence, has been immersed since the age of two in the stringent world of tight hair buns secured with numerous bobby pins, choreography counted down to the eighths of each musical note, and the almost religious sequence of pliés, tendus, and so forth, from Monday to Saturday and sometimes Sundays and holidays.

I am aware that the discipline ballet has given me is a valuable life skill and one of my personality strengths, but in today’s fast-paced world and professional job market, so is versatility and the ability to adapt quickly to changes and challenges. I decided that working on improving my ability to be spontaneous through small, conscious choices in my everyday life would be of great importance to my personal growth this year–my own little experiment on spontaneity. And moving to a new country for the next couple of months seemed to be the perfect opportunity to begin.

I received a dream scholarship to spend three months as a trainee at Ballett Dortmund in Germany, taking many classes, shadowing all rehearsals and corrections, and watching performances from backstage. I was over the moon excited and continued to prepare extensively and thoroughly in the months preceding my exchange, checking each item off my to-do list carefully in the final days. I did, however, begin my quest for spontaneity when I decided to share a flat in Dortmund with three other dancers (whom I had never met before) and who were also completing the internship program, as a nice way to meet new people with whom I could share this experience with.

It soon proved to be the right choice. On Sundays, our pastime was making up a variety of random fun activities: learning German words and phrases, movie nights watching old romantic comedies, exploring the Friday vintage street markets at Friedensplatz, and testing our cuisine aptitudes by trying out recipes with whatever ingredients we had at home. We had a picnic at Romberg Park with the Japanese dancers we met at the trainee program, where we prepared Brazilian foods such as pão de queijo, and carrot cake with brigadeiro until late hours, and they brought Japanese treats I had never heard of before for us to try. We also loved exploring some of the many parks and museums ranging from the Borussia soccer exhibition to the modern art museum in the “U”-shaped building, to historical expositions about the Holocaust, and at the Opera House, eagerly watched any and every ballet, contemporary, opera or philharmonic production that was on. We explored nearby cities such as Cologne and Essen, where we decided to visit Villa Hügel, a historic 19th-century mansion, and ended up getting slightly lost for a couple of hours through a not-so-ideal for walking (though quite scenic) path in the woods.

On two occasions when we did not have weekend classes, we had the fortuity of stumbling upon day-trip tickets for the next day at an unmissable fare to Brussels and Luxembourg, only a few hours away from Dortmund by train. These spur-of-the-moment adventures turned into blissful memories of walking 20km+, touring the Grote Markt and Casemates du Bock, exploring the charming canals of The Gründ, and dancing our hearts out in the middle of a random park as if life was a musical, with the added bonus of taking cover from a sudden hailstorm and waking up at three in the morning to arrive in our destinations by breakfast time, returning home quite exhausted but with hearts full of experiences to treasure in the evening.

Ballet also offered quite a few opportunities for me to practice my free-spiritedness. In February, I took part in my first audition event for professional ballet companies in Barcelona. On the day I arrived, I used my free afternoon and evening to wander down Passeig de la Graça, stumbling upon the iconic Casa Gaudí and embracing the opportunity to embark on a nighttime tour. Two days later, despite pouring my heart into the audition, I wasn’t selected for the next phase. Rather than dwelling on disappointment, I took proactive steps by emailing the director of Ballet de Barcelona, whom I had previously contacted for auditions. To my astonishment, not only did they agree to a class, but after observing me in it, also extended me an invitation to join their Apprentice program for the following season.

During another audition event in Budapest, I recognized dancers from past competitions in Brazil. We seized the opportunity to reconnect and, on a whim, decided to try to purchase standing tickets for that evening’s show at the illustrious Hungarian National Opera. We gained entry for a mere 2 euros and were treated to a mesmerizing performance, the world premiere of a contemporary and neoclassical triple bill. The next day, after the audition, we embarked on an impromptu climb to the breathtaking Buda Castle and, in a delightful stroke of serendipity, reached the peak just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, casting golden rays over the Danube and etching a memory that will forever remain the most captivating view I’ve ever beheld. As we headed back to the hotel, a stroll down Andrássy Ut led us to a beautifully lit Ferris wheel. The unplanned ride rendered a breathtaking panoramic view of Budapest from above, the perfect culmination of our time spent exploring this captivating city.

A couple of weeks later, upon finding out on a Friday that I couldn’t audition that Sunday at the company I was interning at in Germany because they needed taller dancers for the next season, I impulsively booked a flight for the next morning to Paris, for another audition that would take place on the same day. Normally, I need a few days to mentally prepare and plan for castings or performances, but this time, I embraced the opportunity without hesitation, packing my suitcase in minutes. The impromptu audition went wonderfully, and despite not following my usual meticulous routines, I was pleasantly surprised to secure a spot. On Sunday, after a day of evaluations, I had three hours to explore Paris, suitcase and all, before heading to the airport. Despite the rush, seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Les Deux Magots, the Louvre, Ópera Garnier, and Galeries Lafayette was absolutely worth it.

To wrap up my European adventure, upon returning from the audition, I received a response from a company I had reached out to with a mix of trepidation and the assumption of rejection. Despite expecting a “no,” I had sent a video requesting to take classes and audition and was eager to learn I had been invited to join them for a week. With just a week and a half left in Europe, I hastily embarked on a final journey to Romania. There, I had the privilege of taking classes with the Ópera Nationala Romana di Timisoara, and on my last day, the director approached me and offered me a professional contract, the objective of any young dancer, for the next season. I remember wandering the streets that day, feeling so fulfilled and so thankful that I had taken the risk of writing to them and coming to audition amidst so many older and more experienced dancers. I reached a charming central plaza as the sun began to set, my favorite time of day (clearly), and a musician played the sweet melody of “Interstellar” on a grand piano. Following the beautiful canvas of the sky, painted in a stunning palette of orange, pink, and purple, I strayed down the iconic Alba Lulia street, framed by suspended butterflies leading to the city cathedral. On one of the buildings, a poignant message read: “You are exactly where you need to be!” I paused, allowing myself to fully absorb the enchantment of the scene. However, as darkness rapidly descended, I realized I was unsure of the way back, and just as I reached for my phone to open Google Maps while continuing to walk in the same direction, I looked up to see the street led right next to the Opera House and my hotel, just a few meters away. In that literal “full-circle moment,” everything felt serendipitous, and the world seemed wonderfully magical.

One other example this year taught me that sometimes, the most extraordinary things happen when we least expect them–that is, when we work hard but also learn to enjoy the journey and let life flow. Upon my return to Brazil, my state faced a challenging period with the aftermath of historic floods and rains. The aftermath was heavy with devastation, yet amid the wreckage, an unwavering determination to rebuild the cities and rise above the catastrophe permeated the air. Amidst this turmoil, while volunteering at an animal shelter near my house, I received a notification email from the Royal Ballet School. For three years, I had lingered on their waiting list for their summer intensive—a dream I had reluctantly shelved as improbable. Despite my focus shifting towards other opportunities and career prospects, the longing for this experience remained. Thus, when the offer unexpectedly arrived on a day of least anticipation, it brought a glimmer of hope amidst the prevailing adversity, marking the first positive news in a while.

My experiences this year have imparted upon me a profound lesson: the importance of releasing fear, insecurity, and anxiety about the future and instead embracing risk-taking and spontaneity. Despite encountering numerous inevitable setbacks and rejections over the years, I attribute my successes to my unwavering determination and refusal to be deterred by obstacles. It’s all about perspective–letting go of the fear of rejection and viewing each challenge as a stepping stone in preparing you for the life of your dreams. Throughout my life, my pursuit of perfectionism, fueled by the constant search for sublimity in every detail of ballet, often led to frustration as I meticulously planned every detail of my existence. However, this year, as I made a conscious effort to shift my focus towards enjoying the journey, showing kindness to myself, and silencing the doubts that threatened to overshadow my confidence and excitement for the opportunities that come with taking chances, I discovered that the most remarkable coincidences and experiences unfolded when I embraced the unknown and took chances. I recently stumbled upon a saying by Benjamin Mee that perfectly summarizes my newfound understanding: “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” And I believe that is exactly it: Success in any area of life, I’ve learned, will always begin with the courage to go for it. Sometimes, you simply have to take the plunge, a leap of faith, and trust that things will fall into place. If something goes wrong, improvise. There is magic in the unscripted, and oftentimes, it is where the most marvelously unexpected things occur.

Categories: Alícia