“I remember being really excited,” said Engum, “I painted a wooden star to hold up in the crowd that read ‘You're a star Nutcracker.’” However, she never really saw ballets as anything more than a rock concert or people shouting and waving signs at performers. For a few years after that, ballets inspired Ruby to create expansive drawings of dancers which helped her improve her artist skills as an individual.
Around four years later, young Engum was confronted by a friend who happened to be a dancer; Ruby’s friend took offense to her drawings because she had never danced to know how a dancer would look. A stubborn Ruby promptly started taking ballet classes at the studio her friend went to, called Pendleton Ballet Theatre, located at 425 S. Main, Pendleton, OR. “I use to love drawing ballet dancers, the way they moved across the stage mesmerized me,” said Ruby. Where Ruby once admired the grace of the performers as they moved through the still air, she now gets to experience this herself as a ballerina.
Since Ruby was starting later in age, she was less flexible and coordinated than other students her age, so she had to start in Ballet 1. “Starting later means your body will be weaker,” stated Ruby, “The muscles require years of relentless dedication to the craft, any dancer starting late will likely never catch up to those their age.” Ruby explains that dancers who start late, who happen to have a naturally athletic build, may actually be at a disadvantage in building proper muscles.
Ballet has many benefits, such as providing a way to calm the mind and bring peace to feelings of social anxiety, it allows young men and women the chance to form strong bonds with one another in a safe controlled environment. However, there are also downsides to the sport as well; “It makes it hard to have time for homework because of how long the classes can be,” said Ruby.
Not only can ballet take up a lot of time for anyone, around seventeen hours a week, there can also be issues among the students in the classes if another student isn’t as active in practice or doesn’t show up as much as everyone else does. Any conflicts to occur among the students is, “Usually just expressed in rolled eyes, and it’s mostly in Ballet II-III,” said Ruby, “We don’t have time to argue or fight, and it would be disrespectful to Julie (our teacher) to waste her time with teen bickering.”
For young children entering ballet between the ages of one and three, a class called “Pre-ballet” is offered at the Pendleton Ballet Theatre. This age group mostly spends their time playing and getting to know the teacher. When they hit the age of four they spend the next four years in Ballet 1, learning basic techniques and start dancing together. Ballet II is made up of ages nine to twelve where dancing becomes serious. “You’ll speed up your combinations, you’ll get larger in the annual spring show,” said Ruby. The next step up for ages thirteen through fourteen consists of practices increasing to two a week instead of one a week. “A select few will be allowed to do solos,” said Ruby, “many of the dancers at this point take all the classes they can so they can gain as much technique as possible.”
The final class is Ballet IV, for students ages fifteen to twenty-one. By this time, students will begin using pointed shoes, as well as increase their classes to four a week, not including how many rehearsals students are required to be at. For this age group, students like Ruby do equal amounts of solos as they do group dances. “The more intensive pieces (such as wolves in Beauty and the Beast) are reserved for this class, you have a broad acting range from ethereal to savage,” said Ruby. “You dedicate most, if not all of your time to dance and perfecting your technique.”
Ballet does not require that a student has a specified diet, only that they are healthy and fit enough to perform. Sadly it is very common to find young dancers developing eating disorders to be able to perform properly. For professionals, they have weekly weigh-ins to make sure the dancers are not losing or gaining too much weight.
Ballet is an intense and beautiful sport, to be a ballerina you must be dedicated, hard-working, strong, and willing to give up time and social life to be the best of the bes., Overall, to have heart for the dance is most needed.