I started this post at the end of last year but never got around to finishing it. As it turns out, university is a lot of work. 2018 was an absolute roller coaster of a ride. I would describe last year for me as a boat journey. Not only did I cross the sea to move to another country, but there have been times of stress and uncertainty when it felt like I was being tossed around in a sea of crashing waves, and then there have been times of brief calm and peaceful ocean.
The main event of last year was graduating from high school and starting my very first year of university. I’ve told a couple people that if I’d known what last year was going to be like, I probably would have gone the safe route and taken a gap year. However, it’s been such a surreal year of challenge and learning that I don’t think I ever could have been ready for what this past year has thrown at me.
I started off last year on the east coast of South Africa and ended it near the west coast of Canada. I have moments in my day when I realize how crazy that change is. Culture shock is a real thing. The way I attempt to describe it to people is that it’s in the little things. South Africa is a relatively developed country compared to a lot of African countries so the cities don’t always seem quite that different, but it’s something like the smell of the ocean, the colour of the lights, or the selection of a store shelf that reminds me I’m not in a familiar place when I’m in Canada.
Don’t get me wrong, Canada is great, it’s just…. different. If you ask me which one I prefer, this is how I’ll respond: You’ve obviously never had your heart split between two countries so don’t expect to understand the complex range of emotions that comes with that experience. Go think of a worthwhile question and maybe you’ll get a worthwhile answer.
Okay, that’s definitely not what I would say if you asked me that in person. I would probably say something more along the lines of: “Oh, you can’t compare them.” Just know I’m thinking the line I stated above. But here’s some advice, just don’t ask me.
Now what was it like leaving South Africa? That’s a question I can answer.
I had to grapple with the fact that I was moving halfway across the world to my home country that no longer feels like home. Whenever I visited Canada there has always been at least one person that asks me what it feels like to be ‘home’. I never know how to answer that question because there’s this assumption that because I was born in Canada I still feel more ‘at home’ when I’m there. In reality, I’m stuck in a strange sort of limbo where I don’t feel completely at home in South Africa because I’ve kept my Canadian accent and have been homeschooled for most of my life, but because I grew up out of Canada, I don’t really know how to relate to Canadians either.
So when I had to start packing up my life of eight years in order to move to Canada to start university, it was definitely a daunting task. I had to go through all of my stuff to weed out what I didn’t need or want anymore and pack it up into cardboard boxes ready to be shipped across the ocean.
The time came for me to leave my country.
Saying goodbye to my friends was hard, but they have all been so supportive, and we manage to keep in touch (when I actually remember to respond to their sweet messages. Can I just say that long distance is hard?!)
Fast forward to finishing first year… that’s exactly what it felt like. It was as if someone had pressed the fast forward button and forgot to press play again. It went by so fast. That said, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself, about how to function in a university setting, and about how to interact with large groups of people I had never met before. Yes, I’m an extrovert, but even for an extrovert a whole university of people is frightening. Luckily, I have a brother who put up with me hanging out with him and his friends and now he can’t get rid of me if he tried.
But in all seriousness, I have met some really incredible people. While I tend to connect with people pretty quickly, it takes me quite a bit longer to form deeper relationships. First semester was rough because I was in a new setting without any friends, and I felt very disconnected from my friends in South Africa. On top of that, I made a bad course decision landing me in a biology course meant for nursing students. My friends have heard me complain about this enough, but I managed to get through it while keeping my grades relatively high thanks to a miracle of a friend who actually knew what on earth was going on (shoutout to Chels <3).
So when second semester came around I had proven to myself that I could handle the academic difficulties that come along with university. It doesn’t mean second semester was easy, but I started really connecting with people in second semester which made this social butterfly’s heart a whole lot lighter (you know who you are 🐧).
So now I’m looking back at the academic year I’ve completed and I couldn’t be more proud of myself. If I’d known the struggles I would encounter before enrolling at UBC, I would have given into fear and stayed home, but I am a better person for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and I can’t wait to continue growing throughout the rest of my undergrad degree (please remind me of these words next year when I’m staying up until 1am slowly being crushed by the heavy weight of my workload and my overachieving high standards).
And now, I get a very exciting opportunity of going back to South Africa and reconnecting with my home of eight years after the past year of crazy experiences. I’m heading out for the month of May and am planning to soak up all the South African sunshine I can. Honestly, if it’s cold and rainy I am going to be incredible grumpy, but at least I’ll have good people around me to make it better.
These photos are, in fact, around a year old, but they capture the way I feel about South Africa incredibly well, and I can’t wait to go back and capture more of this beautiful country. Expect more posts to come soon.
And with that, my first year is done.
My boat’s still floating.
I’m in peaceful waters at the moment, but it won’t be long before my little boat is put to the test again.
This post has been more than a month coming, but I finally had the time to put it together so here it is at last. Earlier this year my family and I were in the full swing of planning our trip back to Canada. This was my final year of high school and in the fall I am planning to attend university. This means I had to pack up all of my belongings in South Africa that I had accumulated over the 8 years I’ve lived there in order to ship them to Canada. As we were planning our trip overseas we were wondering if there was one last thing we could do as a family before I fly the nest later this year. Ideas came up about Hamilton tickets but they’re so expensive and you have to book so far in advance that it didn’t seem worth it to make the trip all the way to New York (which means flying through the States which is always a pain). Please come to Canada, Hamilton! When that idea fell through I threw out the option of flying through London Heathrow which is a regular route when flying transcontinental to see if it was possible to attend a Royal Ballet performance… I can’t believe it happened.
I’ve been a dancer for coming up to ten years and I had only seen two ballets in person. However, I knew a lot about the classics; Nutcracker, Swan Lake, La fille mal gardée, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, etc. One of my favourite past times (and procrastination activities shhhhhhh) is watching the Royal Ballet rehearsal videos on the Royal Opera House’s youtube. As you start to get to know the dancers you get excited as different principal dancers are cast as different roles and you get to know more about the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
As our travel plans started coming together it looked like heading through London would be very possible, and not only that but the weekend we wanted to fly through Heathrow was when the Royal Ballet was planning to put on a brand new production of Swan Lake (different from their previous versions). Which ballet is more classic than Swan Lake? Is this real?
It was pretty surreal for me to even contemplate viewing a performance in person, isn’t it only rich people who go to the Royal Ballet? Maybe not, but still, in my mind people who are paid in pounds are the ones who get to do stuff like go to the ballet and we are paid in Canadian dollars which are worth almost half what the pound is worth. Nevertheless, we wanted to make the effort for me to see this ballet, as a sort of graduation present. Generally the earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets are, but when we went to look at tickets for opening night (the night I wanted to go) they were almost entirely sold out. The best tickets we could get were roughly 80 pounds (yikes!) so while it would have been nice for my parents to come as well we decided it would be best if I went by myself and so could get a better seat that was single.
The night that we booked was on Thursday the 17th of May. It was opening night with two of my favourite dancers, Marianela Núñez and Vadim Muntagirov as the lead roles. I don’t know if I could have been more excited. The time I fell in love with Marianela was when she danced Kitri in Don Quixote with Carlos Acosta in the Act I finale and Act II pas de deux which I was able to view on youtube and am still in love with to this day. Her theatrical capabilities, acting, and of course dancing were exceptional and from there I could see she becomes any role she steps into. The first time I saw Marianela was in a rehearsal of the old Swan Lake that had been showing in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire so to be there on opening night of a brand new production of Swan Lake sounded like the perfect night.
As I started following Marianela, I began to notice she was being paired more and more with Vadim and as I watched more rehearsal videos I could see why; their quality of movement is so beautiful, and Vadim himself is an exceptional dancer. Was I really going to be able to see these two dancers in person?
The night I was going to attend the ballet was actually the night after we flew into London so we would get into London after an 11 hour flight at something like 5 in the morning and I would have to go to the ballet in the evening which lasts until after 11 at night. Talk about a long day. You never know what’s going to happen between leaving the airport and arriving at your destination, I have some crazy stories let me tell you, but in the event that I lost my bags I decided it would be prudent to pack anything I needed for the ballet in my carry on so if something happened to my big bag I could at least get through the night. My camera bag also had to fit in my carry on though, so here I am with half of my bag filled with my camera, the other half filled with a dress, shawl, heels, and makeup.
It was quite a flight. I managed to get some sleep on the plane, but of course there were a couple crying infants which made it difficult at times. When we landed we made our way to where we were staying with was a little room on top of a pub in Acton, it was quite fun actually. As soon as we had lunch though, we all flopped on our beds and had a nap; we needed it.
I was so groggy I had to drag myself out of bed and slap some makeup on my face trying to make the bags under my eyes look less noticeable. Then I got all dressed up in my dress and heels in order to majestically walk down to the subway station and ride public transport all the way to Covent Garden. That’s right, this girl knows how to do class.
London is such a beautiful city, I think my favourite thing about it is all of the architecture and visual interest, you can just tell it has such character, I mean, it’s been around for a long time. It was so fun walking up and down streets and exploring little nooks and crannies that you would never find anywhere else. I have to say, I fell in love with London a little bit, and I certainly hope I’ll be back.
So let me tell you a little bit about the ballet; you might have heard me say that this is a “new production of Swan Lake” but what does that mean? You may think that Swan Lake is just Swan Lake, but in reality there must be hundreds of versions of this ballet, all slightly different. The way ballet companies produce classical ballets is they make their performance unique to all the others so while it may be the same music and parts of iconic choreography stay the same, they will fill in places with light and shade in order to make their production different. This makes it so that you won’t see the Royal Ballet version of one ballet put on by the New York City Ballet; they each have their own versions. This makes classical ballets rather unpredictable because in Swan Lake you might have a happy ending, sad ending, or even an ending resulting in mixed feelings. No two Swan Lakes are exactly alike.
So this production was choreographed by one of the Royal Ballet’s resident artists Liam Scarlett. I’ve seen a bit of his work online, namely Frankenstein so right away you know he’s a bit different from the typical choreographer, he’s a bit darker and thinks a bit more outside of the box, so I was interested to see what he was going to do with Swan Lake. Also, costume design can change from production to production, as does set design, it all depends on the kind of feel the choreographer is going for. On social media leading up to the performance I saw teases of the tutus here and there and they looked absolutely stunning; the excitement was starting to build!
So when we finally arrived at Covent Garden we had to have a bite to eat before my parents could drop me off at the Opera House and we ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant with a group of South African friends who also happened to be in London (small world!). Afterward which we finally got to make our way to the Opera House.
How majestic is this building? If I could just explore the Opera House I would be 100% happy, but to think I actually got to see a performance? Well, that’s just…. well… wow.
Can we take a moment to appreciate these two? Look how graceful they are together (pictured below)
As I entered the Opera House I just walked around exploring anything I could. I was a good half an hour early but there were already hordes of people. A lot of people were in the Paul Hamlyn Hall which is basically a massive gallery with glass walls and ceilings where they’ve set up a bar and restaurant for people to eat beforehand and have drinks during intermission. I was so happy to be there I just kept doubling back on myself taking in the grandness of it all. Whenever I entered a room I had a jerk reflex telling me, “Don’t go in there, you’re probably not allowed in there, this is for people who have money to pay” and then I had to stop myself and say, wait a minute, I did pay! Well, my parents paid (thanks mom and dad, love you) but seriously, I had a ticket so there should be absolutely no reason to refuse me entry to any of these rooms no matter how socially unacceptable it was for me to wander around without paying for a drink. Once I got that mentality into my head I started relaxing and just enjoying everything about the Opera House. I traveled all the way from South Africa for this, I wasn’t about to let it pass me by! The staff were extremely nice and just smiled, not bothering to tell me whether my aimless exploring was socially acceptable or not. Honestly, I didn’t much care.
And then, I got to the theatre. Um, wow. So, funny story. I was originally going to get a ticket in the amphitheatre (the cheapest option haha) and generally you want some form of binoculars to help you see some of the detail of the dancing because when you’re that far away you still want to be able to see what’s going on. So we packed our heavy-duty binoculars that we normally use for safari game viewing and carted them all the way to London. When we left for the bus station (to take us to the subway station) I realized I had left them in our room so my poor dad had to run all the way back to the pub to pick up these binoculars so I could use them to see the dancers. We missed our bus and had to wait for the next one, but at least we had the binoculars now. So remember when I said I was going to be in the amphitheater? Whell when we saw there weren’t many seats left and decided I would be going on my own, we decided to book my seat in the left circle stalls which were lower and closer to the front. Only when I took my seat in the theatre did I realize just how close to the front I was. I could see the stage (almost) perfectly from where I was sitting, no binoculars needed. I had been so prepared to see tiny moving dots on a stage far below me I was shocked when I realized I was wrong. Well, if anyone needs binoculars, let me know.
So we all took our seats, and I couldn’t have been sat next to a nicer gentleman. He was an elderly man but I later found out that he was at the very first performance of Sleeping Beauty when the Royal Opera House reopened after WWII in 1946 and has been going to performances ever since. So here I was sitting next to a man well acquaintanced with the Royal Ballet as I got to experience my very first performance. It was a lot of fun chatting with him during intermissions about principal dancers and who has the best technique. It was extremely insightful as he also knew a lot about other versions of Swan Lake so some roles even I wasn’t aware of he was able to explain, which made the whole experience that much more enriching.
Disclaimer: The above two photos are not mine and I take no credit for them. All rights belong to the Royal Opera House, I am merely using them for visual purposes. They were taken directly from the ROH website and I highly recommend taking a moment to read their history page to learn more about the backstory of the Royal Opera House.
During WWII the Opera House was used as a dance hall and following the war, they decided to make it the official home of both the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.
So the lights begin to dim and the very first scene is vivid and dramatic. Tchaikovsky’s music begins playing and there’s a little girl in a white dress… Rothbart approaches her menacingly, preparing to turn her into a swan. This is when Marianela Núñez bursts onto the stage; the Swan Queen in all her glory. What an opening! After the intro, we are taken to Seigfried’s kingdom and you see these huge golden gates dominating the stage, setting the scene in the purest form of the phrase. I was dazzled by the set design, my mouth literally dropped open and hung there for a good two minutes. Dancers started flowing onto the stage and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve waxed and waned about the lead principal dancers on this particular night but I didn’t know just how many principal dancers were going to grace the stage, another one of my favourite dancers Alexander Campbell played Seigfried’s friend and Seigfried’s sisters were played by Francesca Hayward and Yuhi Choe. Alexander was in a beautiful red coat while Francesca and Yuhi were in the most dazzling silver dresses I think I’ve ever seen. It was just magnificent. The performance only got better from there, I could detail every little thing I remembered and tell you about how amazing it was, but this kind of experience can never be put into words and I feel blessed and grateful to have been able to have the pleasure of witnessing it. If you want a peek at some of the amazing choreography, check out this rehearsal video showing Marianela and Vadim in their roles dancing Liam Scarlett’s expert choreography. I’m probably going to go and watch it now if I’m honest….
Disclaimer: Again, all rights belong to the Royal Ballet, I take no credit for the above two images. Read more about the ROH’s production of Swan Lake here.
“The Royal Ballet performs a new production of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent classical ballet. Production and additional choreography by Liam Scarlett and designs by John Macfarlane.”
I’ve said so much already, but as I’m recounting all that happened I’m reliving the night in my head and there’s so much I can say. The first act was, of course, incredible. During intermission I walked around a bit, had a drink of water upstairs (it was free) and just enjoyed the Opera House. The second act was even grander than the first with a massive gold ballroom and throne for the Queen to sit on. The Black Swan pas de deux (this is a link from an older production but it’s the Royal Ballet’s choreography) is possibly one of my favourite pas de deuxs in ballet because it’s so theatrical and exciting to watch. I got to see the Moscow Ballet do just the Black Swan at the Playhouse in Durban with my dance studio, and ask them; I was gasping excitedly telling them all what was going to happen next, “here come the fouetté’s!” I would say. One of the most iconic segments of Swan Lake are the Black Swan fouetté’s during the coda which is basically when the ballerina gets to spin around a million times on her pointe shoe (32 to be exact). Of course, Marianela and Vadim did not disappoint. I also loved how the black swan’s tutu mimicked the white swan as they both had silver threads lacing up and down the costume making for a detailed effect and less ornate than the previous tutus. I appreciated this because in my opinion it made the tutus more elegant and less stuffy than they had previously been while tying the story together.
Then, as if this all wasn’t enough, the director of the Royal Ballet himself was there and I got to walk right past him on my way to the amphitheater viewing gallery during one of the intermissions. I pretty much just stared at him as I walked past and I think he saw me and probably wondered what on earth I was doing. And then the man I was sitting next to pointed out Liam Scarlett in the crowd as he was taking his seat so I stared at him too. What a surreal experience.
Honestly, if I lived in London I would go to as many ballets as I could, even if I had to get cheap nosebleed tickets in the amphitheater. Just being in that theatre and hearing the music would be enough for me. I hope it is not my last visit to the Royal Ballet although it may be a number of years before I get the chance to go again, but until then, I love you London, I love you Royal Ballet, and until next time….
I have been dancing for nearly ten years now, and while I’ve had my ups and downs, (you can read about those in my previous 2 posts about ballet and contemporary) I’ve always enjoyed it. Now, as I’m starting a new chapter in my life I’m facing the fact that I probably won’t be able to access lessons all the time. I’m heading into university where my transport will be limited and my studies will take first priority.
I’ve always said I will never stop dancing, and I know that this change will not affect that, but it will mean it is harder for me to dance as regularly. I will write a post all about my transition into university life, but what you need to know is I’m moving from my 8 year home in South Africa to my childhood home of Canada.
The dance studio I’ve been with for eight years has been like a home for me, and I could not have enjoyed my time there more. My teacher has always been encouraging and the atmosphere is joyful and relaxed. Knowing that I have to leave has been a real struggle for me because I don’t know if I’ll be able to find somewhere else that I enjoy as much. Dancing, especially ballet, can be very strict and stuffy at times, but where I have been, it has always been lively and joyful. I actually don’t know if I would have stuck with ballet if not for the atmosphere I found myself in.
I have grown immensely as a dancer and a person, and I want to continue on the path that I set out on eight years ago. The question is, how?
The great thing about dance is you can do it just about anywhere. You don’t need a fancy studio with a full-length mirror and a barre to have a good time or work on your technique. With ballet, there are a few more requirements, a smooth floor for example, but dancing is about so much more than that.
Sometimes around the house, I’ll just randomly do a posé turn or step into a penché or put my leg up into a wall split. Dance stays with you and will follow you wherever you go. When you’ve done it for long enough, it starts to become second nature.
The thing about dancing is it teaches you about more than just steps; it teaches you about life, about patience, about perseverance, and about awareness of others. The kindness and commiseration you feel with fellow dancers is extraordinary because you know you’ve made it this far together.
Some people think ballet is all about pointe shoes and tutus, but I’ll have you know that the first time I put on a tutu was last year… after 9 years of dancing! The time shown in these pictures was probably my 2nd time wearing a tutu to show some kids at a local daycare school about ballet. The looks on their faces when I went up on my toes was absolutely priceless! Even the parents were amazed, it was really quite something. Ballet captures some of the beauty of life, and I am honoured to be an ambassador of it.
So… what next? I’ve told you about my journey with dancing, and shared my passion, but how will I continue doing it when I’m supposed to be studying?
All I have to tell you is a dancer will find a way.
If I can’t get to a studio, I’ll dance in my room, if there’s nowhere to practice, I’ll stretch in the gym, if I start losing my strength and balance, I’ll do it anyway because there is nothing like being able to express yourself. It’s kind of what I’m all about here on my blog; expressing yourself in whatever way suits you, and expressing yourself to the fullest. It’s something you can’t fake.
I’m not the best dancer in the world, but that doesn’t stop me from always doing my best, and trying my hardest. Even though my foot may be sickled, at least I tried and had fun doing it.
If you’re struggling with self-esteem in a field where you feel insecure, I would say to not do it for anyone else. If I based my dancing off of having to perform perfectly for other people I probably would have been killed by the pressure. The beauty is, in the art world, you only have to do it for yourself. If you’re wanting to make a job out of it or get an opportunity to pursue it full time it may be different, but ultimately you have to love what you are doing, and that doesn’t come from any outward recognition or praise.
The dance has to be inside you. It’s what drives you to do more and be better. Don’t worry about what other people think; take their comments in stride and never stop pursuing what you want to achieve.
I am currently in London, but I wanted to get this dance post up before I get into all the adventures I’ve been having. Please bear with me!
These photos were taken by my lovely friend Hope Bowley and I would highly recommend checking out her facebook page and instagram.
Recently, I went to a contemporary workshop as a part of the South African Society for the Advancement of Dancing. My teacher told me about it, and the number of classes they were offering made my knees weak. There was so much to choose from! Of course, the classes were not cheap and after begging my mom to let me go (and drive me all the way into Durban three days in a row) I had to pick what class I wanted to do. The three that stood out to me the most were ballet (of course), hip-hop (for a bit of variety), and contemporary (which just sounded fun). My dance teacher encouraged me to try something a little different than ballet, and I thought contemporary would be the most beneficial in building on skills I already had.
The conference lasted for 3 days, and each day my parents would drive me into Durban (20-30mins away) and I would dance for an hour and a half before driving home.
1 move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps
I use the term ‘dance’ loosely because while I would still consider it dance, it was basically an hour and a half of rolling on the floor.
We started our warm up by rolling down into a pushup position before tucking one knee under to put our head on the floor. After doing that on both sides we would do it again, but roll to lie on our backs. After doing that on both sides we eventually rolled all the way around into a sitting position and then back the other way into a pushup. We got to do that about five more times… and that was just the warmup. This is the part when I started wondering just what I had gotten myself into.
The instructor had us sliding across the floor like slugs, shifting from one hand to the other with our feet in the air, and rolling as if our lives depended on it. It was probably the most intense hour and a half of my life. What a workout!
She threw us into the choreography and just left us to figure it out. I was still not used to going from position A to position B, and now you want me to incorporate that into a dance? I had to think on my feet in this class; no, not literally because we were on the floor for half of it, remember?
The choreographed dance was just a combination of the skills we were learning, but it was still in a completely foreign realm as far as movement goes. I’m used to pulling up and keeping square in certain positions, and this instructor threw all the positions out the window, and instead focused on transitions. She didn’t care so much about where we eventually ended up, she cared about how we got there, which is essentially what the class was all about… hence the rolling on the floor.
The next morning I was beyond stiff and I had bruises where my knees continually slapped the concrete. My arms were sore from constantly holding my weight and my thighs were protesting from all of the bending we did. Great, only 2 more days to go.
On the second day, I was wondering how on earth I was going to get through another class. I was so stiff and sore, I could hardly sit down. But, my class came and I went, and it was just as difficult and tiring as the first day.
By the third day, I was completely finished. In the last session of choreography I just let myself go and rolled with the music as best I could, but in a way, I feel like that was the point. By being thrown into something completely new and extremely difficult, it forces you to find the best pathway for your body. You have to learn to communicate with your muscles and listen to what your body is telling you. Eventually, you begin to figure out where your arms need to go in order to not get bruised and the way you need to roll to avoid banging your head. It was actually quite empowering to be able to do the choreography in the way that suits you the most without worrying about the way people perceive it.
I am extremely glad I went and I know I will continue to draw on the knowledge I learned in all of my dancing from now on. When I went back to my studio and taught my class some of the steps we had to do I laugh at how much complaining there was. That wasn’t even the half of it!
I look forward to being able to build on what the instructor taught me at that workshop; it was one of those experiences that really makes you believe in the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I am stronger now, and I know I will continue to get stronger with every new style I learn.
These photos were from my Advanced I ballet exam near the end of last year. I meant to write up this post right away, but time got away from me. Nevertheless, I think it is worth documenting because it was a huge personal accomplishment for me.
At the moment I have a lot of dance photos, so look out for more posts coming soon about my most recent dance endeavours.
I’ve been doing ballet for ten years now. I started dancing in Canada and I can trace back my love of dancing to a prayer written in a little book when I was 7 years old…
“Dear God, I want to be a ballerina so I can dance for you… please help me. Amen.”
I would never have thought that dance would become such a huge part of my life. In my dance class I’ve seen people come and go and over time I’ve realized that what I get out of dance class is exactly what I put into it. It doesn’t matter who comes and who goes, dancing is ultimately about you and your body (and your mind, and your soul, and just your well-being in general).
With the realization that I am responsible for my body (which my dance teacher had already told me multiple times) I started putting a little more into my dancing. I can’t quite remember what drew me to ballet, but I think it has a certain allure that calls to any young girl. The grace and strength of it is something every woman should aspire to in her heart.
Accomplishing a new move is such an empowering experience and I loved feeling my body get stronger over time. I started dance because I liked the idea of it, but I kept with dance because I loved it.
However much I enjoyed dancing, I never did well on exams. Our studio participated in ballet and modern exams once a year and whenever we got our results back we would all gather around my teacher and sit on the floor while she read out our grades. I always got lower marks than I wanted, and even my teacher expressed surprise when I didn’t do as well as we expected.
I would get so nervous in the exam room I think it affected my ability to show the examiners what they wanted to see. Because of this, I didn’t think I was particularly good at ballet. I always thought that the freer, more lyrical styles of dancing came more naturally to me. I figured that ballet was good for staying strong and supple, but it was modern dancing that could be my niche. That opinion of myself started to change when I saw my peers around me gradually stop dancing. One would stop because of school, another because she was moving away. It started to occur to me that sticking with ballet is not as simple as I thought it was, and I was all of a sudden one of the only girls in my class. Almost overnight dance became less about what the other person was doing and more about what you could do to better yourself.
When my Intermediate exam rolled around I actually missed the session closest to us because I was away in Canada, so I decided to do an early session the following year in May… the only catch was we had to drive 6-7 hours to get there.
I passed that exam with a 75%; a merit. Not only had I passed, but I had significantly improved from my previous exam! I had a general idea that I was one of the harder workers in my class, but I had never experienced such an amazing show for my effort.
Because I was planning to start university the following year, I had decided that I wanted to start work right away on the next exam. My first exam was in May, the second one in August… it was doable, but only just.
Now not only was doing the next exam in August difficult, it was completely impossible. You try getting right up on your tippy toes in a pointe shoe with a fraught ankle. Yeah, not going to happen.
My only other option was to go up to Pretoria (the place I did my Intermediate exam) again for yet another exam in November, praying that my ankle would not only heal but be strong enough to support me en pointe.
I did vigorous physio with multiple physiotherapists and was rubbing gel and putting ice on my ankle every day and night. After all this, I thought, “I had better be able to do my exam.”
And so we drove, for the second time in one year, up to Pretoria. I listened to my ballet music on the way and read my teacher’s notes on what the examiners were looking for.
Leading up to this exam I made a conscious decision. That decision was that I was not going to be nervous. No matter what happened, no matter how stressed out I wanted to be, I wasn’t going to stress about what the examiners were thinking, and I certainly wasn’t going to let any stress affect my dancing. I was so sick of being paralyzed by fear going in to these exams that I was not going to have it.
While I was warming up in the room with my peers who were to take the exam with me, everyone was chattering about how nervous they were and how they hoped the examiners were nice. While we talked a bit, I was ultimately focused on my own mental space. While we were warming up I didn’t allow myself to get stressed out; I wouldn’t worry when I was in the exam, I wouldn’t stress, I would just dance. And I did.
Getting out of the exam I was an extremely happy dancer. Apart from losing my balance at the barre, I did amazingly well. I just relaxed into my work and performed it for the examiners. I didn’t even worry about the dancers around me, they might dance on the spot while I danced around the whole room; I didn’t care if I went the length of the room in the time it took them to move two steps, I just did what I knew and did it well.
I knew I had passed, I just didn’t know by how much.
I got an 83% for that exam…. a distinction. The highest mark I have ever gotten for a ballet exam. Saying I was thrilled would be an understatement. I’ll never forget when my dance teacher broke the news. Normally she just sends a message, but this time she called. I saw my teacher’s name pop up on my phone and I hesitantly picked up. She said hi, I said hi. Her next words to me were,
“Before I tell you your mark, what did you do?!”
Here I am going oh great, I probably got a 60% or something. I couldn’t even think straight, I wanted to say “I just danced” but I’m pretty sure I just said, “I don’t know.”
My teacher replied with, “Shall I just tell you your mark?”
I think I said, “yes, please.”
“You got an 83… a distinction.” I burst out crying. My teacher was so funny, “The lady at the office told me you got a D, and I was like a D?! what on earth is a D?”
Turns out, it’s a distinction.
Whatever doubts I had about my ability vanished. I remember the smiling faces of the examiners and I hope I managed to brighten their day a bit with my dancing. This was to be my last exam of the South African method before I move, and it couldn’t have been a better ending.
I now know that no matter where I am, I will always continue to dance. I see professional dancers on youtube and know I will never be as good as any of them, but it doesn’t matter because I am an accomplished dancer in my own right. Knowing this for myself makes all the difference.
Everyone wants to be accepted and understood. It is extremely lonely pretending to be something you’re not just to ‘fit in’. Living in a South African context with a background that no one else can really understand has taught me that your identity does not depend on where you are living, or the kind of people you’re around. You have to decide for yourself the kind of person you want to be. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t give you a free ticket to happiness.
More and more I’m learning that people will always let you down. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, it’s just something that happens. It’s a sad reality of the world we live in, but we have to accept that everyone is navigating this life for themselves and it doesn’t always result in a perfect relationship every time.
Being accepted for who you are is one of the greatest gifts of friendship, but that also comes with understanding one another. Especially when two people have differing opinions, you have to work to keep a relationship strong, and that can result in some very difficult conversations. It is my belief, however, that a relationship is never allowed to grow deeper without these kinds of conversations. It helps both people to understand where the other is coming from and allows them to feel heard and valued. Without that, feelings may never come to the surface.
Let me tell you a bit about myself… I am a people pleaser. I go to great lengths to make people feel loved and valued because deep down, that’s how I want to feel. If someone doesn’t reciprocate the same kind of effort and emotion, I assume that it’s a reflection on myself as if I’m not trying hard enough to make it work. This is why I’ve had to focus a lot of time and energy on accepting that I cannot make everyone happy. If there is a situation where I have to choose between the emotions I feel and the way someone else wants me to act, I need to do what’s best for myself.
My brain doesn’t let me choose myself as much as I would like. I can sit here and write things like “love yourself” and “put yourself first” but I can’t pretend it is that simple. In a recent situation with a good friend of mine I had to decide if I wanted to make a situation easier for everyone involved, or to stay true to what I felt emotionally. My head screamed at me just to let it go, and to make things simple so no one had to get hurt, but my heart ached at the thought of lying to myself.
I didn’t want to pretend that I was totally okay with everything going on around me, because I wasn’t, yet the desire to be accepted rivaled the desire to be true.
The result was a lot of uncertainty and wondering, but I felt a strange sense of peace inside me because my soul could feel safe and at home, not violated and ignored. I watched a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson in my grade twelve English course that talked about how the education system is “killing” students’ creativity. What I loved about it though was the depth of application to what he said. It didn’t have to be taken in the literal context of the schooling system, instead, I would apply this knowledge to everyday life. All of us are born with some form of creativity, it can be original thought, the use of art as a form of expression, or music, or dance. But then what “kills” this creativity is not being true to who we really are.
Just like ignoring your personality “kills” your creativity, it can also kill your happiness. I feel most happy when I can be myself around close friends, but if I am not true to myself around others, I cannot be true to myself when I am alone because I would feel one way or another I am lying.
People can feel trapped in different situations because they do not feel like they can freely accept themselves. To do so, would jeopardize the act of “fitting in” which is something that we find to be of the highest priority in a social context. However, it is this kind of behaviour that rips us apart, because our personalities desperately want to show. The act of pushing them down and hiding who we are makes us less able to embrace our uniqueness, from which stems creativity and original thought. No matter how many times people say that you’re unique and not to let anyone change you, we’re always trying to imitate something else.
I remember thinking that to put yourself first was selfish. I still do, sometimes, but I also am trying to learn that not being true to yourself can set you up for a lot of hardship down the line. I think that while being accepted and understood by those around us is a wonderful feeling, it is not something that lasts. Instead, it is important to make sure that you understand and accept yourself. It’s a weird thought of having to “understand” yourself, but sometimes I react to things and I don’t know why. To fully understand why something bothers me so much, I have to fundamentally understand myself and what I value in life. Generally, if something gets under my skin, it’s because something I value is violated, and to fully understand why will help me to monitor my reactions in the future.
We will never truly feel fulfilled if we don’t experience life through our own eyes. We cannot pretend like we are something we’re not, there is no pleasure in that. While the desire to be accepted is fundamental in our social behaviour, we have to learn to fulfill that desire with our own acceptance of ourselves. Through showing who we truly are, we can discover those around us who truly accept us, and the result will be more life-giving than imitating our version of perfection. We will never achieve our version of perfect… we can only hope to be happy in ourselves, imperfect though we may be.
As a homeschooler I never thought I would get to experience a prom or the South African equivalent matric dance. I had dreamed of it maybe happening sometime but I always thought that my graduation ceremony would be the extent of my high school festivities. You can imagine my surprise when a good friend asked me to accompany her to the matric dance they were holding at the school where she worked. My mom encouraged me to go and so the preparations began.
I’m not the fussiest person when it comes to getting dressed up, I can generally do my hair decently and make myself look presentable, but for a matric dance you generally put in a little more effort as a part of the experience. Unfortunately, my parents were away in Ethiopia the day of the dance so I was accompanied by my good friend to the hairdresser’s to get my hair and nails done. I think we can all agree they did a fantastic job! Especially with it being the first time I had ever gotten my nails professionally done, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome especially because I have the most brittle nails in the world that insist on tearing every chance they get.
I’m very happy with the way my hair turned out as well. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting their hair done just to end up hating it and I worried a similar thing might happen to me, but I trusted my hairdresser and she did a fantastic job as always.
I, however, wanted to do my own makeup – that’s half the fun! My favorite thing to do is to take my time on my makeup, I sometimes call it my therapy. Plus, I had an excuse to use my fancy lipstick unapologetically.
As the invitation was so last minute, we had limited time to search for a dress. Most girls know what dress they want months in advance but it was the week of the dance and I hadn’t even thought of the kind of dress I wanted. The typical dream is to have a long evening gown sweeping the floor as you dance, and while there were some in the store, none really suited me and they were somewhat out of our price range. When I tried this dress on it fit so well and looked completely classic. I was at first unsure of the shapeless fit, but as my mom pointed out, it was the style, and I hope I don’t sound too narcissistic, but I think it suits me. With dreams of evening gowns with a fitted waist you can imagine my surprise when I found myself at home with a shapeless dress that didn’t even reach my knees. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m already looking forward to the numerous occasions I’ll be able to wear this little black dress and it’s entirely timeless in my opinion.
Of course, we had to have a mini photoshoot to show friends and family in other countries so I hope you’ll indulge me with some of these shots.
The dance itself was an experience since I had no idea what to expect. There was a huge red carpet rolled out for the graduating class and the arrivals were almost more about the cars than the fashion. Revving cars would be met by hysteric screams, you’d think Benedict Cumberbatch had arrived.
I’ll be honest, I was a bit of an insider at the event, I sat at the teacher’s table and was asked my opinion on fashion to determine the best-dressed individuals of the night, it was really quite fun.
The downside was I had sprained my ankle exactly a week before, and you can read all about that in my Persevering in the Berg post. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to wear my fancy heels or be able to dance whatsoever, and if you know me, you know I love dancing. I was attending intense physio sessions during the week and I think it was by sheer determination that I wore those heels for the entire night, after walking on uneven ground in the park to get these beautiful shots. I have my gorgeous friend Limé (lee-may) to thank for that.
I got many a compliment on my ensemble which I have to say made me feel pretty dang special. I enjoyed talking with the teachers and saying hi to the few people I knew, but if I’m honest there was less socializing than I thought there would be. Maybe it was just because I was a bit of an outsider but it seemed like most people kept to their tables, but again, it might have just been me feeling uncomfortable. I don’t often feel uncomfortable in social situations, but being among my peers at an event that they have been looking forward to for their entire high school careers felt somewhat unnerving, but as the evening progressed I felt more included and I ended the night with tired feet and a happy heart.
Dancing with a crowd of people you hardly know without a partner I discovered is not exactly easy. My chaperone refused to dance as she prefers to watch from a distance, but if there’s a dance floor, you won’t find me far from it. While not a dancer herself, my partner encouraged me to go dance, and I eventually did, but I just kind of stood there in the crowd not sure what to do. All the girls had their partners, and the others had created a bit of a circle where people would showcase their dancing once by one, but I wasn’t one to just push in, so I kind of bounced on the spot completely clueless as to how I was going to make this fun. Eventually I took a break and had a breath of fresh air, and when I got back to my table for a drink a couple of the teachers invited me to accompany them to the dance floor. That’s when things started to get fun. The kids knew the teachers so already I was a part of the group and some of the girls started teaching me specific moves that I can only assume is the pop culture of today, but it was really fun as I finally felt like I was a part of something. I surprised myself to see how much I could do with a swollen ankle I had stuffed into my heeled shoe, but I found strength that I didn’t know I had and determination to have fun that I didn’t know was sometimes required. That’s just it, if you’re not determined to have a good time, it’s not guaranteed to happen automatically. You have to work to have fun sometimes, just like you have to work to have good relationships occasionally. Everything needs a bit of a boost, and for me, it was finding the right people to share the night with.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed reminiscing on this once in a lifetime event.
These pictures were taken on my trip into the Drakensberg which is a range of mountains inland of South Africa’s coast. It was going to be a two night trip with my youth group. I had been excited for this weekend, but what with the promise of freezing nights, people I didn’t know all too well, and a startling 5:30am wakeup call, I became a bit disenchanted with the notion.
It was just one of those things where you know it’ll be great and you try to convince yourself you’re fussing over nothing, but there’s a little nagging voice in the back of your head telling you to stay home, that it’s not worth it. I shared these feelings with a friend who felt mutually, and we kind of looked at each other and asked, why should we go? But we pep-talked each other and managed to convince ourselves that once we got past the 3 1/2hr drive, we would be glad we pushed ourselves to do it.
Were we wrong? Yes. Am I sorry I went? Kind of. Would I tell myself to stay home from similar events in the future? Absolutely not. Pushing yourself is the only way you learn to discover new things, meet new people, try out new places. Without pushing yourself, life becomes boring and predictable. I’m mainly annoyed because I managed to sprain my ankle, making me have to get driven home the day after we arrived. In my opinion, not exactly worth it.
While I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of doing a 5hr hike after a 3 1/2hr road trip, I put on a good face and laughed with the others, convinced that the people around me would help to lift my spirits. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; with a good face and determination, you’ve pretty much got a good time in the making.
The berg is beautiful this time of year or any time of year for that matter. While the evenings are undoubtedly cold, the days are pleasantly warm in the sun and the mountains were magnificent. Hiking seemed like a small price to pay for these views.
While the mountains were spectacular, every once in a while, a different perspective is welcome. Why does a party have to be loud? Why does a prayer have to be quiet?
On the way down the mountain, low and behold, I step into a pothole on the side of the trail and stumble. I can safely say that that hurt. Don’t ask me how I managed to keep myself from landing on my camera, because the truth is I have no idea, but what I knew for certain was that I had just sprained my ankle… a month before a ballet exam… and I had no way of hiking the rest of the way back. Luckily I had friends around me who helped. I got a piggyback ride all the way back to camp; some may think it was relaxing, but I was trying not to be too much of a burden on the poor guy who was tasked with maneuvering the mountainous terrain with me on his back.
What with the swelling and bruising around my ankle, it was safe to say I was out of commission for the weekend. With my only chance of getting home leaving at 5am the next morning, it made for the 3rd sunrise I’d seen that week. The first was Sunday over a golf course with good friends, the second was driving up on Friday (remember the 5:30am wakeup call?), and finally, driving home on Saturday with a swollen ankle that wouldn’t hold my weight… each event getting progressively worse and worse, but each sunrise as beautiful as the one before, just from different perspectives.
And now I am sitting on my bed after an intense physio session with my ankle taped and balancing on a stack of pillows writing this blog post and thinking that if having a sprained ankle wasn’t such an inconvenience, I still would have woken up that early, endured the drive, and gone on the hike, just for the experience of being around the people, seeing the mountains, and feeling the exertion. All that said, it still wasn’t an enjoyable experience, but it’s the unenjoyable experiences that shape us as people and the way we find our way through the challenges presented defines us in our personalities.
Life is about pushing through, overcoming, and laughing about it afterward. You know what? I’m up, I’m walking, although my ankle still hurts I know that my body is incredible enough to heal itself and that makes me happy.
If nothing else I got a new facebook profile/cover photo and some cool Instagram posts… that’s all that matters right?
Sometimes you need a good book and a cup of tea to unwind, sometimes you need some fresh air and a brisk walk. Everything is different for everyone, but what’s always the same is, once in a while, we need a break from the busyness of life. For me, high school was getting crazy, commitments to friends and other people kept me running at full speed, and eventually, I was just holding out until I submitted my one last assignment, and completed my last test.
Now, I get two months off. Two whole months and I couldn’t be happier about it. Two months to pour into painting and dancing and maybe a bit of mindless Netflix watching as well. I went so long without taking time to do the things I enjoyed that I’d almost forgot how much I enjoyed them. I forgot what it was like to get out of the house.
This is when an adventure is needed. It doesn’t matter what kind of adventure, or how long it is, just something to inject you with a little bit of life. These photos were taken from Easter when my family and I went on a spontaneous drive to see a waterfall during Golden Hour. That was an adventure. But one of my favorite kinds of adventures is when you just stay home, read a good book, and get swept along in someone else’s adventure.
Whatever adventure we choose, we often forget how much we need one when life doesn’t allow for anything else. There’s always another deadline, another project, another commitment. We never seem to slow down and take the time to allow ourselves to do the things we enjoy. It might be because we’re feeling guilty from a bad decision, or you could just feel obligated time and time again to do things for other people, but the truth is, we’re no good to other people if we don’t take care of ourselves.
The adventure I chose for this week was alternating a good book with some screen time, two things I really enjoy. Watching a silly video on youtube, putting my thoughts out on the internet, and reading about the impossible challenges of three heroes destined for greatness. My family and I decided to get out of the house, get some time to ourselves, only an hour away from where we live, but away from all our commitments as well.
It’s in looking back at pictures like these from some time ago that one can begin to realize the power of adventure. Feeling purpose is all well and good, but getting lost into an adventure can sometimes be the best medicine. One of the reasons I like Alice in Wonderland so much is because it reminds us that getting lost is not always a bad thing, but neither is finding our way back.
I didn’t think while I was writing this, this blog post is just my thoughts raw on the page. Simply, we forget to take care of ourselves and we think that to do so requires some sort of huge effort, but it can take nothing but a long drive or a short nap, just something you really look forward to, something no one can take away from you. That is how you really recharge.
My birthday was just about a month ago now and I felt as though I couldn’t not share it. I wanted to re-cap it as something I could look back on and remember because my 2017 B-day is not something I want to forget.
My good friend stayed the night before my B-day, and we ate pizza and snuggled up on the bed watching a movie, enough said. The ideal movie night in, in my opinion. I focused just on enjoying the night so I didn’t snap any pictures, but I kind of like it that way. Sometimes a memory is better in your imagination, and I wouldn’t have traded that night for the world… my heart was so happy. ❤
The next morning was so special and I was spoiled rotten by my family and friends. The gift of social media allowed me to received messages from people dear to my heart who were across the ocean. And then the fun began. We got all dolled up and headed into Durban for our special tea.
We decided on the Antique Cafe (93 Churchill Rd) and we were not disappointed. Not only did they have the most beautiful sitting area, but their food was amazing. 5-star rating from me. ^_^ There was an accordion player playing live atmospheric music and the whole morning couldn’t have been better.
It’s not every day an accordion player plays you Happy Birthday and you get a candle in a bee sting. In case you’re confused, a bee sting is a mini cake with honey and caramelized nuts. Divine! We also indulged in some cheesecake, and oh man it was good!
But really, I can’t think of anything more special than sitting with my friend and my parents enjoying a beautiful Durban morning celebrating another year alive