Senior Emily Hacker discusses her experience as a high-leveled ballet dancer

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Senior Emily Hacker started doing ballet when she was three years old. “I have three older sisters who all started ballet at my studio at that same age, so it was almost tradition for me to start too,” said Hacker. Having receiving a few platinum titles for her solos and competitions, she currently holds the title of Principal dancer.

Diana Baeza, Personality Perfectionist

What was it like when you first tried it out?
“Well, since I was so young I don’t really remember but it’s a very gradual start. You don’t start truly dancing until you’re much older. At first, you just start by jumping over pom-poms and things because that’s what kids enjoy.”

So what was it like as you grew older?
“When I was 13, I auditioned for the preprofessional company that was associated with my studio. That completely changed ballet for me and was a huge jump in technique/intensity. Since then, I’ve gone from dancing two days a week to five and during “Nutcracker” season six. The main difference between the regular levels and the company is that we perform five times a year instead of once and also perform in pointe shoes. At first, this change was extremely overwhelming because in 8th grade I began dancing with seniors in high school, but I learned to love it. I have had many moments where I have wanted to quit but in the end, it’s a passion of mine and the studio is my safe space. There is also a seniority system within the company. Apprentice being the lowest and Principal being the highest – just like in the professional ballet world. I entered 8th grade with the title of Apprentice and after 15 years of ballet and five years in the company, I now hold the title of Principal dancer.”

What are some struggles you had to face?
“Of course, I’ve had a few injuries throughout my dance career that have set me back. Many sprained ankles have kept me from dancing. The worst feeling is sitting on the side while injured, watching your friends dance. It’s just so disheartening especially when you don’t know your recovery time. I’ve also struggled with mental health because ballet is extremely emotionally taxing as well. [During] my junior year, I struggled finding the motivation I needed, but luckily I found it again during my senior year.”

How have those struggles helped transform you into who you are as an individual?
“I’ve really learned how to work hard and persevere. Working on something year-round nearly every day for years changes more than just your technique. It taught me to never give up. Especially when not doing well physically or emotionally, I was able to push through and continue to surprise myself. Ballet also taught me how to take criticism and apply it to improve myself, rather than taking offense. This skill has carried with me through almost everything I do beyond ballet.”

What drives your motivation to keep going?
“In a more literal sense, I sign a contract each year so I have to pay a large fee if I were to quit. Some of my closest friends are also there. I met the best people in my life at the studio. Although many of them have graduated, I’ll always have a family there. I spend more time at Patzius (my studio) than I do at my own home and for that to change would completely alter my life. Unfortunately, that change is inevitable and will happen in June.”

What are the pros and cons of ballet?
“Ballet is extremely detail-oriented and requires your entire body to work the entire time. One of the most difficult things to realize is that perfection is unattainable. There will always be something to work on. Also in ballet, there is toxicity when it comes to body image. Being with all of your friends in leotards and constantly being told to suck in your stomach affects you more than you would think. On the brighter side, ballet makes me feel good. Dripping sweat, fixing corrections, pushing my limits and talking with friends make me so happy. The best part is performing and having an audience applaud you for your hard work. It’s the most amazing feeling.”