Seeing ABT’s Sleeping Beauty

Two ballet dancers dance in black and white. The man holds the girl's hand while she jumps and lands to go directly into a relevé with her leg pointed up.

My sister has always been a big fan of the ballet. When I was younger, she’d pull her hair up to the top of her head, twist it into the tightest bun she could, and shove as many bobby pins as were necessary to make it stay. Then she’d walk around with her toes pointed out, her chest up in the air, and her arms in a tight en bas as if she were holding her dream of becoming a dancer in a giant fishbowl before her.

I used to feel uncomfortable watching this little play. I didn’t want to go to the ballet. I didn’t want to sit through hours of silent dance and old music only to end the night trailing behind my sister and her stifled pirouettes. I never wanted to be a ballerina, so none of it made sense to me, and I found the whole thing a bore.

All that has changed now. I’ve come to realize what it is about the ballet that had my sister up all night practicing standing on her tiptoes all those years ago (and probably now, too). You see, a few years ago I had the good fortune of becoming friends with a real life ballerina and she put into words the feelings my sister had every time she watched Center Stage on repeat in our family room. She told me that what she loved about ballet as a dancer was the challenge—that you can always learn more and be better. But that didn’t seem like enough to me. Didn’t most art forms do that? What was so special about ballet? Then she told me what she loved about ballet as an art, and that I understood. She said it was the way it made what should be impossible movements look effortless and beautiful, and I realized how true that was. I began to come around to the idea of ballet as an actual form of art worth looking at, and boy was I late to the party.

This past weekend, the University of Michigan paired with Michigan Opera Theatre and gave hundreds of students, including myself, the opportunity to go to Detroit to see the American Ballet Theatre perform Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. When I got the invite from said ballerina friend, I was excited to go to the ballet for what felt like the first time. But when we got there it was a whole other story.

Of course, there wasn’t a bad performer on stage. Every dancer moved across the floor with grace and beauty. The jumps were high and sprightly. The expressions were grandly enticing. The spins were fast and steady. The relevés were tall and mighty. The outfits were incredible and envy creating. And the music was big and bold with a lavish conductor working every second of it.

Then there was one big surprise that really overjoyed everyone in my group. Misty Copeland would be at our performance, and our performance only. For those of you who don’t know who Misty Copeland is, Copeland is the first black woman to dance as principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, widely considered one of the best ballet companies in the world. That’s a big deal. A very big deal. Getting to see her dance is an incredible opportunity because damn, she’s amazing, and, lucky me, I got to see her! I could watch her move across the floor any day.

Gaining a true appreciation for ballet has been one of the best things about going to college, but this was really the icing on the cake. Sitting in the Detroit Opera House and watching that almost three hour performance pass as if it were only a few minutes was a special treat. I could see why all of the little girls there had their best dresses on and their hair in buns, eager for the chance to look and feel like one of those dancers in even the most minimal of ways. And yes, I will admit that when I walked out of that theater there was a small part of me that felt like turning out my toes, holding my chest to the air, and sporting a great big en bas just like my big sister.

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