Next weekend people will pay nearly $100 a ticket to watch the Connecticut Ballet perform Coppélia. I had the privilege last week to be a guest at a private performance of the ballet’s highlights at my mother’s independent senior living center.
The dance was beautiful, of course, and especially impressive since the dancers were performing in a carpeted ballroom with limited space instead of their normal spacious wooden stage.
But…what really impressed and surprised me was the international makeup of the company and the incredible devotion of the dancers to pursuing their American dream. After the performance, artistic director and company founder Brett Raphael asked each member of the company to introduce themselves. Their ages ranged from their early 20s to mid 30s. Most of the women started dancing in elementary school, while the men started somewhere between the ages 13 of 17.
Only about a quarter of the 20 or so dancers were from the US. The rest left their homelands—Venezuela, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Italy, Russia, Japan and the Dominican Republic, to name just a few—and came to the US to pursue their passions. When they arrived here, many of the them did not speak any English. Some had no money and knew no one in this country, so they needed Brett’s help to find places to stay. They arrived with only their American Dream to dance professionally.
Attaining that dream was not going to come easily, and there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Mikhail Baryshnikov, who has made many millions, was a clear outlier. Misty Copeland, one of the most successful and prominent dancers of recent years and the American Ballet Theater’s first Black principal dancer, is rumored, according to some websites, to have a net worth of only about $1 million. That sounds like a lot until you realize that she has been a principal dancer since 2007.
And yet, these incredibly talented and dedicated individuals persist. What drives them? The American Dream.
To make ends meet, everyone in the ballet company has other jobs. They dance in other shows when and where they can…even wait on tables. Some have started their own businesses that they manage when they are not rehearsing or performing with “CB.” These young people are so driven that they will do whatever they have to do to achieve their dream.
Russian dancer Anastasiia Fedorova drives every day from the American Russian Ballet School—the ballet school she started in northern New Jersey—to Connecticut. On a good day, it’s an hour each way…on a bad day, well, how long is a traffic jam? When Anastasiia started the school, she was the only instructor. She now has three instructors thanks to her talent, passion and very deep commitment.
American dancers in Europe can earn extra money teaching English. That was the story of one of the few American dancers in the troupe. She spent four years in Italy studying dance and teaching students. Then COVID hit, along with the opportunity to return to America. Thanks to remote learning, she was able to tutor her growing international clientele even from the States and continues to manage it from anywhere she might be dancing or training. Ingenuity, creativity and passion helped her succeed.
And when all else fails, the fundraising website Go Fund Me has helped. For one dancer, paying $1,000 for a highly specialized intensive training class was insurmountable, so she turned to GoFundMe for assistance. Joelle was very lucky because she raised $2,000, and that allowed her to complete her training and return to the stage.
There are many immigrants where I live now, some who speak English and some who don’t. I have never seen a group of harder-working men and women, often taking on multiple jobs to pursue their American Dream. They have strong families and strong faith, and they pass that along to their children. I tutor a number of these children in the schools, and they are among the most polite and best readers in the class. They want to be here because they know what it’s like in other parts of the world.
I fear that young people in America take life here for granted and have forgotten about the part of success that requires paying some dues—long hours, unexciting tasks, bosses who are not like their nurturing mommies. Thanks to the pandemic, many don’t want to go into an office, and when they do, they have problems being on time and accomplishing their goals. These young people may think that Jeff Bezos and Oprah WInfrey woke up gazillionaires…and that Michael Jordon and Tom Brady were born GOATs.
No, that’s not how it works. It took hard work, sacrifice and dedication, similar to those amazing ballet dancers, for these business successes to be achieved. As Andrew Carnegie said, “Anything in life worth having is worth working for.”
Next time you go to a performance, think about what it took for the people dancing or singing in the back row to be on that stage. And remember that the next time the going gets tough for you.