Entering class, junior Valerie Ng finds herself in a sea of tall and thin ballet dancers. She attempts to make herself look taller to match the other dancers around her. By stretching her body as far as possible while switching positions, she is able to finally fit in.
At three years old, Ng began her ballet classes after her mother enrolled her in Li’s Ballet Studio. As a 5’2” dancer, she was one of the shortest and would usually be in the front row during group performances, subjecting her to the judging eyes of the audience.
“Looking around our class, only a few of us fit those tall and thin stereotypes of ballet dancers, but it still bugged me,” Ng said. “I constantly compared myself to the other dancers and would always think of ways to become like them.”
During eighth grade, Ng hit a rough patch when all her peers had growth spurts, but she did not. To feel as though she belonged, since she was shorter than the average ballet dancer, she constantly attempted to change herself to please the standard of a perfect and taller ballerina.
“Naturally, the stereotype became something we worked towards,” Ng said. “I would always try to jump rope at home and make myself look taller on stage.”
At her lowest point, Ng began to realize that she had to learn to focus on her ability as a dancer rather than her physical appearance. Instead of striving to fit the norm, she surrounded herself with a supportive community that shifted her negative mindset.
“I am with teachers and other classmates that can relate and help eliminate this stereotype,” Ng said. “Mentally, I would say that I started to concentrate on other things more, like improving my technical skill, which distracts me from thinking about my insecurities as a dancer. I could then feel more confident about myself.”
Currently, Ng is less affected by those insecurities that held her back. She understands that her insecurities do not classify her true abilities as a ballerina. By establishing her own standards, her ballet experience has become more enjoyable and memorable.
“I know that these aspects are not the only characteristics that determine whether or not you are a good dancer,” Ng said. “I would say my biggest takeaway is being happy with the way I am now.”