Some people said she would never walk correctly, let alone dance professionally. But like most inspirational stories, when there’s an obstacle it’s those who overcome that realize the true cost of success. You may remember Caroline from the shoot we did outside of The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, but what you may not know is her journey for achieving such effortless grace for her viewers.
During the beginning stages of walking, Caroline’s childhood was marked with pain and overcoming the deformation of her hips and the pigeon walk that followed from her turned out feet. Therapy didn’t seem to help, surgery wasn’t an option, so it seemed like dancing was worth a shot. The initial thought wasn’t to train for a career, but to just gain normalcy in something we all can take for granted. Caroline had to work harder than most of the other students and her teachers said she was sure to fall behind. I wish I could have known her at that age, because what I know of this dear friend now is that nothing will stop her. Her determination is simply awe inspiring and contagious. And to prove it, Caroline was never held back. In fact, she actually jumped levels in her childhood dance school, preparing her to ultimately land honor classes starting her freshman year at the Conservatory of Dance with the University of Missouri Kansas City. In the past four years Caroline has muscled through classes, traveled the country for auditions, taught student classes herself, and has danced professionally.
And that’s where this lifestyle journey begins. I asked Caroline if I could follow her around and document what a day in the life of a dance student actually looked like - the long rehearsals, the sore muscles, the blistered feet, and even the coffee breaks. I wanted to see everything as it really was. She laughed at my request but agreed on the terms that she was entitled to a few exceptions of not being photographed. Of course there were some academic classes that are not represented in this story, some removing of makeup, and a few cry sessions or two as well. The purpose of such a project is not to expose the intimacies of this friend, but to get as close as possible. To tell a story of determination, of the raw moments, of our friendship, and where this girl is headed now that she has GRADUATED (last week). Her diligence deserves to be highlighted and it’s my joy to share.
(Photos by me with a few from Caroline's adorable Instagram feed)
“Welcome to my liiiiife. I’m tired, I have no gas, but this coffee place is my favorite. Annnnd, I eat my high protein yogurt with a fork because I don’t have a clean spoon….these radio stations never come in and my ole car will probably die soon…but life is like so good!”
I followed Caroline to all of her rehearsals after grabbing coffee. We left at 8:15 in the morning, and were in rehearsals all day. I sat in the corner of the room - but it was such an eye opening and fun experience! Did I mention that the other students that I was a dancer too (...I did have ONE year of ballet...)?! First on the schedule was ballet with a live pianist, then modern dance with a djembe drum and piano accompanying, next a random art class, and then back to the practice rooms for Gary Abbott's rehearsal.
“You have to want this with all you are. You have to work hard and not be lazy or skip class. You have to respect your teachers and learn everything you can from them. You can’t be weak or breakdown in class, it’s all about composure, that’s how you stand out. You have to authentically perform and figure out what that looks like. Help people but don’t get involved with their drama. And really, God knows what you need and like He knows what it takes to succeed. That’s what I’m counting on.”
“Dancing is my passion, but it isn’t my life. In some people’s opinions, I could get in trouble for saying that. But there’s more to me than just dancing, though it’s something I’m entirely dedicated to! I have a fiancé, I have dreams of traveling, I like avocado toast and iced vanilla lattes and decorating, and ultimately I want to do what God calls me to do. He’s the one that has gifted me with these opportunities. Passions are wonderful, but without balance it can all start to fall apart.”
“If dancing is all you have, what happens if it doesn’t work out how you’ve dreamt? What if you fail an audition, what if you aren’t hired in that one dream company, you know? People who eat, breathe, and sleep dance often suffer in their quality of life. They work hard, and that’s something to be proud of. But it’s so important to not put your identity in what you do or like how well you perform. There’s more to life than that. Sure, your schedule might be insane and dancing might take most or all of your free time. But having perspective for why you’re doing what you’re doing is like so key. I dance because I feel most alive when I’m doing it – it’s a way of feeling, a way of expressing the rhythms of life.”
Isn't she just so lovely? This documentary of Caroline's life for a day wasn't in the original KC itinerary. But I couldn't be happier that it happened. If you missed the portrait shoot we did together (what you see above ^), check it out! Despite the hardships that she faced as a girl, I'm so proud of what Caroline has accomplished and her ability to inspire those around her. Her spunk, Los Angeles accent, and her friendship always refreshes me.
Send her some love in the comments!