March 04, 2019

Ballet in Brooklyn

By Gabrielle Saifi
Ballet in Brooklyn

What made you come to London?

Jara: I moved to London 8 years ago because of my dad’s job. At the time I was studying in France at the Paris Opéra School and it just didn’t work out there so I decided to go along with my parents and live with them. When I came to London I had to make the decision of studying at a French high school, but that would mean I wouldn’t be able to dance anymore. Or join an English school and struggle with the language.

You didn’t know any English when you first came here?

Jara: No, none. I was in London for 4 years. I changed schools a lot. And then to New York where I attended Gelsey Kirkland Academy for two years in Brooklyn.

How was that adjustment?

Jara: It didn't feel like an adjustment to be honest. It felt very natural, I just jumped right into it. Everything worked out so well and ended up meeting my best friends within the first couple weeks of being there. I just loved it. Sometimes you go to a place and you know right away that you fit in. I was 17 but wasn’t nervous at all.

So how was doing ballet there?

Jara: Well, I started at such a young age, so I never questioned it until I was much older. I loved it, but I wasn't begging my parents to do it either. It was easy for me since I had the right abilities when I was younger. Of course, there was a lot of rejection from a young age too. Being rejected at 9 isn’t really the best feeling. Everything was all fine until just before I moved to New York when I realized it wasn’t my calling. I was planning to stop but then I had the opportunity to go to New York City on a scholarship so I thought it would be a shame to not take the opportunity of a lifetime. But once I got there my passion for dancing really started to fade. I wanted to have a social life and be a normal kid.

Was there a lot of pressure? Was it competitive in a negative way?

Jara: I never felt like it was really completive. I mean, there are people who aren’t very nice everywhere you go, so I didn’t feel like it was particularly competitive in that way. It’s more the competition with yourself that’s very tough. It was also an unhealthy environment. My directors were very mean and didn’t like me and tried to control so much about my life that they shouldn't have even been involved in. They would say that I should change my friends, make many comments about my weight saying that I had to lose more and that I didn't have the right body for this. So yes, there was a lot of negativity that got to me after a while.

The second year it became much more stressful and they would take me out of roles because I “wasn’t good enough”. It got to the point where they took me out of all the shows without telling me so of course, I asked them what’s going on? Why am I not needed at the rehearsals anymore? They just told me “oh we didn’t see the point in telling you. You are just too big to be in the shows right now. We can’t show you to the public.” I got that news the day after my birthday so I was just not in the mood. It was very rough so at that point I decided to give up because my love for ballet was ruined. One day I came in and I’m about to go into class and the directors pull me aside and ask if they can talk to me in their office. They basically told me that I had to leave immediately. So they stopped my visa and I had two weeks to pick up my life and leave the country.

As horrible as it was at the time, I am so glad it happened. I really think things happen for a reason but sometimes it doesn’t always happen in the nicest way. It made me tougher as well. But now I get a lot of anxiety if I hear ‘can you come to the office’ which isn’t so good because I start university in a couple weeks. The directors were very strange individuals so if anything, I feel bad for them. They both had a lot of issues so I just took a step back and thought that if they act this way, then there must be something deeper so I tried not to take things personally.

After that experience, I didn’t dance for a year and a half, but a month ago I started taking classes again. I was so nervous but now it’s just for fun as a hobby. I’m happy to be getting back into it!