A Childhood On My Toes

Photo by Dakota Ross-Cabrera
Taylor Gladstone, Nicole Ciesinski, Dakota Ross-Cabrera
Taylor Gladstone, Nicole Ciesinski, Dakota Ross-Cabrera

It feels just like it was just yesterday that I was a proud member of the Washington Ballet’s Professional Training Program. Even now, when I bike past that ominous white building at the corner of Porter Street and Wisconsin Avenue, I vividly recall my youth growing up in the studios, amidst my fellow dancers and via the discipline, dedication and commitment that only a ballet dancer can truly comprehend.

Dakota Ross-Cabrera (Photo by: Jeffrey Ross) Dakota Ross-Cabrera

The late Mary Day (with the help of her mentor Lisa Gardiner) created the Washington School of Ballet (TWSB) in 1944 and founded the company in 1976.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Day and auditioning for the school while she was still the director.  My early memories of (TWSB) were not the best, mainly because I was a bit of goofball, which is only to be expected from hyperactive overscheduled seven-year-old girl.  Around the age of 13 when my hours increased at the ballet and many girls dropped out for various reasons, I started to realize that this was a career path that I could take. It was fascinating and nerve-racking that at such a young age I could make decisions that would impact my career and the rest of my life. I remember choosing to stop soccer, which I really enjoyed, and proceed with ballet instead. During the following years, my training intensified, hours increased and my skills saw major improvement. I was eventually accepted into the Professional Training Program of the Washington Ballet after a terrifying meeting with my teachers.

Although I did get injured the following year and had to sadly stop dancing, my experience at TWSB gave me more than I can even put into words. I gained discipline, perspective as well as the ability to constructively take criticism and grow stronger every single day from tough situations. My time at the Washington Ballet helped me become the person I am today. Even though the years have gone by and I've lost quite a bit of technique and flexibility, I still retain a lot from my training: a tight knit group of friends with which I'm still very close; a work ethic and sense of ambition that is incredibly valuable and something unique to ballet dancers. We are trained to never say no to challenges to push ourselves to the limit and then some. We learn to never give up until perfection is achieved.

I would highly recommend enrolling your child in dance at an early age, or even stopping by open classes at any of the fantastic dance schools in the district. There is quite a lot to gain from dancing, training and devoting hours and hours every single day towards sculpting your body towards expressing yourself through movement.

If you've never had a teacher tell you to dance like Rocky Road ice cream or to dance less “grey” then you truly are missing out on an experience unlike any other. Although becoming a professional dancer is not always possible, the skills that dance offers applies to every aspect of life. Although my time at the Washington Ballet was only 11 years (a relatively short time period for dancers) it felt like a lifetime. There's not a day goes by that I don't miss ballet, but I also know that everything happens for reason. I can channel these disciplines towards other facets of my life because they are timeless.  I know that my years dancing were not for naught- they were helping me become my best possible version of myself, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

4 Comments For This Article

Robin Diener

This is a lovely piece. As a former dedicated ballet student myself, I concur with the author's appreciation of ballet in her life. Becoming a professional dancer is not realistic for most of the children who take ballet lessons, or even for many of those who go on to professional training in dance. However, the "return on investment" of ballet lessons is enormous -- in all the ways the author enumerates -- and more. Editors of the Georgetown Dish do readers a great service with articles like this one. Not necessarily what we expect from a local blog but exactly what we love to come across. Thank you.
PS Also enjoyed "Summer Reading."

Joan Kennan

As a former student of the Washington School of the Ballet (in the era of both Lisa Gardner and Mary Day) I concur totally with what Ms. Ross-Cabrera said. It was a wonderful period in my young life.

Stacey Wanko

I really enjoyed your piece. I remember that sweet seven year old "goofball" Great job! Enjoy the rest of your summer. Say hello to your family for me.


Thank you so much Ms. Wanko, say hello to your family as well!
Robin and Diener- I completely agree. Even though I do not dance now, I still carry myself differently, think accordingly and retain friendships from those years. Thanks so much for your comments!