Beyond the steps: An interview with a student ballerina

Shelby Parsons, Editor-in-Chief

For Laurel Larsen, a freshman at Center Hill High School, it’s no rarity to arrive home from Ballet Memphis after hours of difficult and, at times, exhausting routines and classes. She has to juggle her everyday schoolwork and social life with an already demanding schedule. And yet, she continues to turn in each homework assignment on time and stays considerably involved in school functions without fail.

When asked how she’s able to accomplish such a feat, her first words were, understandably, “lack of sleep.” She explained how as a dancer, you develop a high tendency to perform well analytically and mentally within school, due to the situations you’re put into during ballet.

“Teachers will give you a new combination and you’re able to perform it perfectly on the first try because your mind has been trained to think that quickly,” Larsen said.

That’s just one of the many ways ballet has molded Larsen’s mind and character over the course of her life.

“[Ballet] has helped to shape my growth as a person, along with my own personal acceptance, social awareness, and to see my own self-worth,” she said.

Of course, this means that her life as a dancer must have come with challenges to allow this growth as an individual.

“It’s hard to be a dancer and look in the mirror every day and compare yourself to these other girls,” Larsen said. “You can’t get so caught up in being the best, as everywhere you go someone will probably be better. It’s about learning to accept what makes you different and strong.”

There have been times she’s wanted to quit, especially around the beginning of middle school.

“The stress started to pour in and I didn’t know how to deal with it yet,” she said. “I knew I loved ballet but I was questioning if I really wanted to keep it up.”
It wasn’t until her 2016 summer intensive at The Rock School for Dance Education that Larsen knew for certain she wanted to continue.
“It had exposed me to the reality of the dance world that I hadn’t seen before then,” she said.

Every day since, Larsen has had so much inspiration to fuel her drive. Part of this is nostalgia, as her sisters, Holly and Lise, have grown up dancing at Ballet Memphis too.

“It’s who I am,” she said. “Because I grew up at [Ballet Memphis], dance is my way of holding on to my childhood and all of my memories.”

Ballet also helped her in her religious life, which is very significant to her.

“Emotionally, dance has helped me grow with my relationship with God,” she said. “In my family, we’re very religious and ballet helps to extend my faith.”

Larsen has had many moments of inspiration in ballet, but one stands out to her. She recalls watching a scene from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” in which a professional ballerina, who had recently lost her husband, performed as Juliet.

“I remember seeing the tears stream down the woman’s face as she danced with all her heart into the piece,” Larsen said. “She was dancing beyond the steps and portrayed the embodiment of passion, making it so much more beautiful.”

Larsen said that is entirely what ballet, and all dance, is truly about.

“It’s super emotional,” she said. “It’s not just about the steps and impressing people. It’s about changing people’s perspectives and reaching their souls.”