More Than a Reflection

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

There are times when I gaze out of the windows of the South Shore Train and see nothing more than the softened edges of verdant forests and the blurred outlines of monotonous buildings. I watch as the clouds move, change shape, and reform yet again; I observe the rain as it gently collides with the glass pane, captivated by the tear-shaped drops racing across the window.

I spend most of my early afternoons and late nights on the train, either en route westbound to Millennium Station in Chicago or traveling the same railroad tracks eastbound to my home in South Bend, Indiana. In the heart of downtown Chicago, on the 19th floor of a high-rise along State Street, sits the School of Ballet Chicago. Here, I learn, rehearse, and refine the art form four days a week.

I sit on the worn leather seats, consumed by the silence of the train car and engaged in deep introspection due to the indefinable ambiance the South Shore windows possess. It is there, somewhere along the rusted rails between South Bend Airport and Millennium Station, that I suffer from a sense of utter isolation. Despite being surrounded by dozens of other passengers and having made unspoken friendships with these strangers who share nothing but a common destination, I often feel as though my life is passing before my very own eyes. I have sacrificed so much to an art form that offers very little in return: the thousands of miles I sit unaccompanied on the train, the hours I watch myself in a fogged mirror, critiquing my every movement and demanding the utmost diligence from every muscle fiber in my body. I have watched my friendships slowly fade and have returned from a summer dancing in New York City to find that my father had moved out one night and left nothing except a broken family. The music’s once melodious beauty and the appreciation of an art form that overflowed my soul with aspiration are lost, their departure accompanied by any preceding sense of sovereignty over my life. I feel imprisoned before a window, forced to watch from behind a pane of glass.

By looking beyond this pane of glass, though, I have come to understand what has always lied within. My passion for ballet derived from the love of the art form, but it has since transformed into a life-sustaining necessity. I breathe with each plié I make, feel the blood course through my veins with each tendu I shape, and experience the heightened sense of my heart beating along with every petit allegro combination. I find meaning in the geometry of a rond de jambe, the angles of an arabesque, and the physics behind a fouetté turn. Yes, the art form has come to consume nearly every aspect of my life, but it is those marley floors I dance upon, those studios I spend hours in, and those windows I dream out of that have molded me into the individual I am today.

Yet, just as windows offer a perspective from the inside to the outside, I have learned the essence of the different outlook one might see when looking from the outside in. Those individuals must see a ballet dancer, meticulously pinning stray hairs into a ballet bun while on the train, who will not let a five-hour train ride derail her dreams. A determined young woman whose passion for ballet is so extreme that she rides the train nearly 20 hours a week and devotes the rest of her time to a circus act of balancing school work and pre-professional training. And if I concentrate my gaze even more in the window’s reflection, trace the softened outline of my face, and finally meet the reflection of my own eyes, I am able to recognize this vision of myself, too.

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