Column: Through blood and blisters to training with the Radio City Rockettes

The outside sign that reads Radio City Music Hall.

Aleksandra Arwood
Oxford Stories

Aleksanda Arwood in her ballet costume. Submitted photo.
Aleksanda Arwood. Submitted photo.

Tape, Band-Aids, bobby pins, tights, leotard, pointe shoes, character heels, taps, sweater tights. I packed my bag and headed to the studio. I had a nine-hour rehearsal day ahead of me.

When we are children, our parents generally choose activities for us to participate in that they believe will provide us with opportunities to thrive. Maybe it’s soccer or football, or maybe it’s something more artistic or academic.

My parents? They were all about the arts – all arts – and enrolled me in what seemed to be any class offered: Visual arts, drama, singing, and dance. It didn’t take long for any of us to discover that my drawing and painting skills left a lot to be desired, and my singing and acting abilities were more than embarrassing for us all.

Now dance, that was another story.

I think my mom always imagined I would take the stage and pirouette my way to success. So much so that she named me after Russian ballerina, Aleksandra Dionisyevna Danilova.

I must have bought into it, because at 2 years old, my go-to outfit every day was a light pink leotard with a chiffon skirt attached. In my little brain, I was a prima ballerina about to make her debut. I wore it so faithfully that my parents had to sneak in a wash and dry during naptime with me being none the wiser.

When I was finally old enough to walk on my own, they enrolled me in a pre-school ballet class, and to their delight, it was appropriate for me to wear my light pink leo. I still remember jumping over hula hoops pretending they were pits of fire.

At the budding age of 5, we moved from our sleepy little town of Newnan, Georgia to the rural city where my dad grew up: Thomasville, Georgia, the quail capital of the world and quite possibly the most thriving creative community in the South (thanks to my mom who runs the arts center).

Lucky for us, the center was and still is home to South Georgia Ballet, a pre-professional dance company founded my aunt. It became my home away from home every afternoon.

Aleksandra Arwood performing ballet. Submitted photo.
Aleksandra Arwood. Submitted photo.

By the age of 6, I was exposed to ballet, tap, and jazz, and my love for dance took off. I was instantly hooked. Every other day after school, I arrived at the center and, quite literally, skipped to my dance classes eager to transform into the prima ballerina I saw in my head.

As the years went by and my skills improved, my love for dance grew. In third grade, I auditioned to join the ballet dance company.

I remember being terrified as I walked into the studio for my audition. The room was bright, and each of my friends was positioned at the ballet bar next to me, large numbers pinned to our chests.  As the panel of judges sat in front of us, marking our every move, I fell into my prima ballerina trance and performed my little heart out.

Two weeks later, I received the letter. I was officially accepted into the company and found myself excited by the fittings for pointe shoes, tutus, and corsets for each of my new costumes. I was only in elementary school at the time, but I felt as though I was joining a professional company.

In my freshman year of high school, I danced my first ever solo piece. I was cast in the role of the Columbine Doll in our annual production of the Nutcracker. The kissy doll role was my dream come true, and I spent the next three months perfecting her steps.

After that, I became a company soloist, and with this honor came a new chapter in my dance story, one marked by blood, sweat, and years of tears. While my love for dance continued to grow, and accolades from our patrons pelted me like rain, I constantly told myself I wasn’t good enough for the roles I was given. I knew deep down I had the ability, but my brain wouldn’t allow me to accept my talent or see my progress.

My teachers noticed my distress as well. They would tell me to, “Stop dancing as though you are apologizing. You need to own your steps because right now they are owning you.” I slipped into a deep phase of loathing and constant comparison with my friends.

Ballet, my favorite thing in the world, began to wreck me. I began telling myself that I was too large to be a ballerina and became fixated on losing weight. “Ten pounds lighter and you will be able to get your legs higher,” I would say to myself as I stood in the mirror. At 16 years old, 5’8” tall, and weighing 115 pounds, I certainly didn’t need to lose weight, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

I became too thin and too weak to take an hour-long ballet class. I pictured my little 5- year-old self twirling around the ballet studio and realized how sad this was. I knew I was damaging my body and needed to make some changes to regain my strength.

Around this time, I became interested in the Radio City Rockettes. I was captivated by the strength of the women in this dance corps and began to view my body and my training differently.

Aleksandra Arwood training with the Rockettes. Submitted photo.
Aleksandra Arwood. Submitted photo.

Through hard work and determination, I earned the chance to train with the Rockettes for a summer. Dancing from 9-5 in New York City and learning coveted steps cherished by people from around the world, was a new dream come true.

Currently, I am taking a break from training to focus on my college studies, but soon I will be back in full force. The little dancer my mom – and I – imagined me to be is still inside of me, and I want to make her proud of who she has become. Proud to be a strong, confident woman, and one day, proud to be a Radio City Rockette.

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