Why I Gave Up Ballet To Work In Fashion

Photo: Via @peoplesnewyork.
When I take my seat at a fashion show — or even my very own desk — I sometimes think to myself, "How did I get here?" From the time I could walk, I was dancing. Living most of my life in tights, I didn't know anything different. And in classical ballet, for example, if you're not moving, you're not working; so now, as I sit on the sidelines of the runway, it's sometimes... hard to sit still. I say that because if you would have told me, even just a few years ago, that I wouldn't be doing something for a living I'd spent a decade of my life working toward, I would have told you that I'd failed in my life. But the truth is, I'm happier than ever in this swivel chair most people I used to know would call 'Plan B.'

Yet, getting to this point — as I live in what feels like the second leg of my journey — took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Every day after school, the owner of my dance company would pick me up in her Smart car, take me straight to the studio, and I'd dance nonstop until 10 p.m.. That makes for about seven hours of schooling and eight hours of dance, with a short break somewhere in between (if I was lucky.) And when spring came, that meant traveling all around the country to audition for summer ballet intensives: ballet-focused camps where hundreds of other young, leaping grasshoppers would spend entire days following a similar routine as we normally did, but at a much more grueling pace. An intensive was where you learned a bevy of new tricks to whip out of your dance bag and show off to your teachers when you returned home.

Or, if you were me (and most likely many others), it was also the place where, at the ripe age of fourteen, you'd learn that your feet were too flat and your hips too wide. Or you discovered what it felt like to rip your Achilles tendon in the middle of rehearsal and dance through the pain. But, if I hadn't experienced what it means to push my body to its practice-makes-perfect limits, I wouldn't be able to recognize the discipline I have in myself now.

The night I limped away from the dance world was a moment I'll never forget: It was my last recital with the dance company that had sculpted me into a young man. And, it was the last solo I'd ever perform; the final applause, the final rose. I miss that — I miss dance — every day. I sometimes find difficulty discussing it out loud because it still shakes me up. But it's that white-lightning energy that I can still feel in my bones every time I hear the right chord in a song that I'm eternally thankful for. And in a way, has set me up for the next chapter of my life.

Looking back, turning to fashion was not a last resort, nor was it ever my second choice. Being a fashion editor, much like dance, was always somehow part of the plan. I remember watching 'Sex and The City' in between rehearsals and trying to fit myself into Carrie's shoes. Even though I'd look down at my own and see a dusty pair of ballet flats with holes in the toes, a life as a fashion writer in New York City seemed like an opportunity to discover a new side of myself. I just didn't know how to quit one and start the other. In order to apply the same determination to my next chapter, I knew I had to close the first without looking back.

Unlike in the ballet world, there's no one path to becoming a fashion editor. I remember applying to what felt like a bazillion different college programs, and no two degrees were alike. I had no idea where to go, but one day when I tweeted Eva Chen in hopes she'd have an answer for me, she said something as simple as this: "It doesn't matter what you study, as long as you have passion. If you know you want to work in fashion, people will be able to recognize that, so take college to study something that is fun and comes naturally to you." So I did. I double-majored in French and Journalism, and the rest sort of fell into place just like she said it would.
Photo by Alexis Bynum.
Interning in fashion was just like paying my dues in dance. Both required the patience it takes to understand the world you're working in, the accuracy to always hit your mark, and the stamina to keep up in a high-speed environment. My first internship landed me in the features department of a fashion magazine where I was told to, "Keep my head down, do my work, and shut up." Another found me confused in the merchandising department of a luxury retailer. But after a few others, I'm now here, mere months into my job at Refinery29. And it's with great relief (and no more sweat!) I can say that it finally feels like home.

Finding my place on stage and finding my seat at a women's fashion and lifestyle website was, to be fair, an adjustment. It's not easy going from one extreme to the other (even for a Taurus like myself), and my teammates in both couldn't be more different. But what I learned from being a classical ballet dancer shaped who I am as an editor. Working in fashion, for me, represents every stitch of who I am. Whether it be a new designer collaboration, a fresh crop of models on the rise, or the debut of yet another piece of fashion tech that will "change the way I shop forever"— it's an industry that is constantly changing. And without learning how to adapt to last-minute changes in choreography or playing understudy to someone else's part, I wouldn't be able to be as quick on my feet in the office as I am now. I never failed as a dancer. I'm just playing another part.

And as I look ahead at where my future stands in an industry whose very core is built upon what's next, the nerves I once felt standing in the wings of dance theaters feel all too familiar again. Will I fail? Who knows. Will I succeed? TBD. But the fall from my chair at this tiny little desk will hurt far less than from six feet in the air at center stage. Now that hurts.
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