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By Amy Phillips Penn
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury


My first roaring rejection tour jete’d in from the American School of Ballet.

I was around ten, and hardly the average ‘girlie-girl.’ My dolls were all naked, and scalped, as I practiced my frustrated hairdresser experiments on their nylon locks. They were stuffed on the top shelf of my closet, and begged to be fostered by a girl with pin curls and a soft dolly brush.

I was horse-crazy. I drew horses, learned to stay on them (most of the time), cried on their neck, and wished for one of my very own. I dreamt of mares and stallions and blue ribbons, and devoured horse books that made me tear up, aspire, and fantasize.

I had no desire to stand at a ballet barre and practice duck-webbed positions, waddling after perfection.

When the rejection letter came, it thundered into a crescendo that triggered the end of my confident universe.

My cousin danced with the School of American Ballet.

She played with her dollhouse in the company of little girls cascading in fairy-tale coiffed ringlets. They dressed up for performances in the Nutcracker, the Bolshoi and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream; Tchaikovsky, applause, and wonder followed their tutus.

I stayed backstage for hours, playing pick-up-sticks with nannies and other bored siblings, as I watched young dancers shed the wings off of an angel costume and transform themselves into a soldier painted in bright red rouge, blushing proudly for guaranteed praise to come.

I wanted to be in the Nutcracker; dress up, be photographed and adored, and have someone lovingly twirl my hair into ringlets,

It was a sweltering humid fall day when I found myself in a sticky gymnasium, where the auditions for the school took place. The room was crammed with perspiration, aspiration, and girls from everywhere and beyond practicing their pirouettes.

My name was finally called and the spotlight was sort of mine — for now.

I was told to take a few steps. A retired Russian dancer barely looked at my foot, said who-knows-what in Russian, and scribbled some foreign notes.

I forgot about the audition until the day the envelope arrived.

It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be accepted. I had friends and family who had breezed into membership there, so why would the ‘r’ word even flirt with me?

I went back to my horse-crazy self, inhaled into tight jodhpurs, and exhaled to wallow in crushes on the occasional boy who rode at Claremont. I made lasting friendships with fellow horse lovers, who had wild and crazy streaks. I was one of them, and part horse to boot.

In time, I saw many of my friends suffer emotionally after a few years with Balanchine’s ballet school. Some were confined to a lifetime sentence with the corps de ballet; others were so tormented by disappointments and life adjustments that anorexia took over; professionals were crying hysterically backstage, and later wrote books about their trauma. There were happy ballerinas as well, not only confined to music boxes.

Rejection is a twisted sister, a shadow of what we may not really want or be suited for. Nevertheless, it makes the inaccessible excruciating seductive.

“Dear to us are those who love us…but dearer are those who reject us as unworthy,
for they add another life; they build a heaven before us whereof we had not dreamed,
and thereby supply to us new powers out of recesses of the spirit,
and urge us to new and un-attempted performances.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Dance on.

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