ballet positions

Everyday Ballerina 3: The 8-Year-Old, Part 2

In the third of twelve daily episodes, Gavin Larsen recalls the hopes and fears of a beginner, and the terrors of an old Greek teacher in New York

Editors’ note: What goes into the making of a professional ballet dancer? In this twelve-part series of reminiscences and turning points excerpted from a larger work-in-progress, former Oregon Ballet Theatre principal Gavin Larsen pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life.  Part 3 of “Everyday Ballerina”: The 8-Year-Old, Part 2.



Now that she knew which studio to go into, the 8-year-old did return the following week, and the one after, and even more after that. As these weeks passed, she began to slowly gain, if not real confidence, a familiarity with how things worked. She followed along. She watched, and copied, but just when she started to think she knew everything she and the other students would be told to do during class, the teacher called for a step or movement that was foreign. As before, momentary panic would strike, and that fear of looking stupid. She was afraid no one remembered that she was the girl who was supposed to be given leeway, who was still catching up. She wanted to wear a sign reminding everyone she was new.

Gavin Larsen

Gavin Larsen

Did she think of her new-ness as a defense— a justification for any mistake she might make? Was it becoming part of her psyche, her identity? A shield, so that she could fail without fear of shame? But the curse of being a good faker is that people begin to think you’re for real, and then they expect things.

She was trying, and listening, hard, very hard. Every instruction that was given she multiplied by at least two or three. A straight knee had to be very, very straight. Shoulders down meant really, really down. “Point your toes” meant make your foot as strong as a dagger. “Stomach in” meant belly button touching backbone.