By Ariana, G7
A When did you find out that you have your passion for science and ballet?
M It comes and goes. It has been up and down.
When I took my first dance class and I loved the music and I found that it was so raw and authentic to me. I loved that because I struggled with words when I was younger, I did not express what I actually felt. I liked that I could express my feeling with my whole body. But there were times when I found the perfectionism in dance was not very inspiring.
As for physics, my passion for science. I always loved puzzles as a kid, I loved maths. When I found out that physics is about solving loads of problems and experiences, like building 3D puzzles like legos, that all helped me. Was I certain that I would like dance and physics? Most of the time I was uncertain. I would say: “I don’t know but I would still want to learn a little bit more. I just want to keep going on it. I don’t know whether it is possible and I don’t know where it is going”.
A Some dancers go to a ballet school and sometimes it may feel like your teachers do not believe in you and you just want them to…
M Yes. You get that a lot. I was lucky. I started out being the worst one in my class and then I got used to doing it just for myself and finding happiness and enjoyment in every little improvement that I made. Sometimes, when I get distracted, I’d tell myself: “OK, if I don’t improve at all in 3 months, maybe I am going to quit. But I have to work on it every day, like get my feet better or jump better”. By the end of 3 months I will always end up being better and then I would say I cannot quit now, maybe another time.
So finding improvements for yourself is important, because when I see a lot of students who were at the top of their class most of their life and when later on in life they are not, it is too hard for them.
A How did you manage with your schedule in secondary school?
M It was busy. Having exams was very hard, all this pressure and you always feel you are not doing enough and you just want to quit. And I would say, every hour of work you put into it is often with every action, as there is an opposite and equal reaction. It was always busy.
A Did you have time to do homework?
M I would do homework whenever I could. Any break I had, I will do homework, and I’d do stretching or sit ups, or I would do homework with my leg up. I would do homework while I do my feet exercises. Sometimes sitting in lectures I will naturally do my feet exercises. In a way, it helps me focus.
A Was it easy to combine ballet and science? You were in two amazing universities (Harvard and Oxford), you did a PhD, you are were a part of a few ballet companies. Was it hard?
M When I went to Harvard, I thought I would not dance. Somehow there were dance opportunities there. Then I did one year without something. But then I decided to quit dance again and I went back to school. But then dance pulled me back. The decision to pursue both, dance and physics, came last year when I was 30. For 10 years I have been doing this and I have been keeping this quiet. So I said to myself: “Enough! I am going to do both now”
I am not a very decisive person. I would always say: “Let’s see how far I will get”.
A I did my first ballet audition last year and I did not get in. How did you deal with rejection?
M Good question. There was one year when I did 25 auditions. First couple of months are evil and hurtful and you feel insecure. What you do is:
- A. Training. You realise that at each audition you become much better than after 25 dance classes. You push a lot harder. Each audition you do is worth 25 classes.
- B. At each audition, I would write down the qualities that I want to show. I might not make it as a dancer, but at least I want to grow as a person. As I was quite shy, I would write down: confidence and maturity. I will write down qualities: I want to be giving energy, I want to be strong, fierce, sparky. I wrote down a ton of characteristics that would help me to be as a person. That somehow helped at auditions. I would write them down right before plies start. Or even if I don’t have a piece of paper, I would write down them on my palm. Now when I audition, I write down: “I want to be generous, courageous and giving”. Then I am not thinking about the positioning of my legs, I think directors can see that. It is better when you have something else you are going for.
I have a mantra for myself. I go into an audition: “I am free and I get hope”. I used to be a perfectionist. I would say to myself: “You have to screw up three times at this audition”. Be as big and mess up. It was a fear of mine – to mess up.
Other things I would do: the more auditions you do, the more you get used to the nerves you get and it is an experiment. Sometimes I say to myself: “You gotta ace it” and I realised that I crumble under pressure and it did not work for me. Sometimes going through auditions and experimenting, you figure out how to perform at your best in stressful situations. The more auditions I did and heard “no”, I could see a lot of improvements.
If you fail, you have to think how to get back up. That makes you stronger. Every time you fail and get back up, it helps you later in life.
It looks like I have been in a lot of ballet companies but you should see a number of companies I auditioned for, but I’m proud of it.
A How did you overcome being a perfectionist?
M I taught myself to let myself mess up. If I disagree with something, people respect that. You have to be who you are. Sometimes I test the situation. There is no point of beating yourself up. You need energy for positive stuff. I don’t spend energy complaining.
A You got into Harvard and Oxford; how did you get there?
M Be open. Everything happens for a reason. It is like a lottery. A lot of people apply and don’t know whether they will get in.
What they care about is passion. They will have a juggler who loves juggling, passionate about it. Find your unique take on something.
They also like people who give back to the community, people who take initiative, who create a website or a dance. Think outside of box.
A How did you handle accepting that you were the worst in class?
M Improvement – no matter where I was: at the top or the bottom – it made me happy. Do it your way.
So many people drop out. Stick through it. Constantly assess how you can improve. Keep on challenging yourself. People can be talented at the beginning, but talent does not make you exceptional later on. You always have to put work in.