“Change of Path”
by Katherine Nettles
Before covid- 19 I had plans and dreams to fulfill. I thought I had my life planned out, not knowing a pandemic was about to hit. It was my junior year of high school and everything seemed to be on track. I was dancing everything I had hoped to be in until the message changed everything. I had initially planned on applying for companies and trainee programs. However, I always thought of furthering my education past high school. Pre-pandemic, I was looking for online colleges, such as Liberty University.
I was on spring break after finishing winter dance and just returned home from Hilton Head with my friends. At first, we all thought it was going to be a few weeks and had hoped to be back quickly because casting had already come out for Spring Dance. I was thrilled because I had learned I was being called for Symphony Concertante. After the third week, we discovered that we were not coming that year. It was a struggle to keep up with the art form I loved because I became afraid to dance, especially on the slick kitchen floor or even the concrete garage floor. As I pushed to keep dancing, I found that I could dance on the carpet in my mom’s office despite it messing up my shoes, I felt safe. My mother was using telehealth to see clients, so she was able to allow me to use her lobby as a dance studio. I spent more time with her and she was able to help me with the remote classes I took in high school. Every day during the rest of the year I was missing the stage and felt I was losing technique.
That summer, I changed the summer intensive I wanted to go to in hopes to be in the studio. I had been offered a scholarship at Pittsburgh Ballet but changed to Nashville Ballet because they said they had a small chance of opening their studios. Unfortunately, the studio did not open but I at least got to see new scenery and attended virtually because I had rented an Airbnb there in case they did open.
During the pandemic, I was extremely lucky to have my brother who agreed to dance with me. I may have introduced him to ballet, but I did not make him like it or even make him dance with me. During the pandemic, we went for walks every day and gave each other classes, sometimes taking classes from all the professional dancers who live-streamed classes.
Occasionally, we did some partnering. Partnering helped both of us to maintain what we already knew.
The following year, we were in person which was a miracle. I had some asynchronous classes and I was able to manage my time a lot better. I even got my first job at Carolina Dancewear. With the extra free time, I could even go dance in Greensboro as well as UNCSA.
Working at the dance store, I learned a lot about dancers and the importance of shoes fitting right. I loved the owner because I could talk about dance with her and learn about all the different brands of shoes and how they should fit. The best thing about working at the dance store was fitting younger girls for flats. It is so exciting to fit them for flats and help them get their first leotard. While fitting them, I would be asked questions about dance and if I wear pointe shoes, and how long. I was so excited when they came in because I knew they were going to be the best type of customers. By helping them I found joy in talking to the younger girls about dance and thought maybe I would teach after dancing professionally.
While I was in a constant state of managing my schoolwork, working at the dance store, and dancing in a 10 by 10 square, I knew I had to rethink my choices and how I wanted to get to my professional career, because many companies were not hiring. As I was working at the dancewear store, my colleague I met at UNCSA told me about the program UNCSA offers for
students who graduate their high school. UNCSA allows graduates of their high school dance program to graduate with an undergraduate degree in 3 years. In this program, I could finish my bachelor’s in fine arts and learn how to teach ballet, and become certified in pilates. I found these as strengths I could bring to a small company finishing college. Furthermore, the state offered to pay for my whole college tuition.
Covid-19 changed the course I decided to take to pursue my dance career. As I begin my second year of college. I can say there definitely was lots more to learn before I go to a professional dance company. By finishing college, I believe I will be better off trying to dance professionally because I will have gained resources that were not given when I went to the high school program, and I will be more mature.
Katherine was born in Guangzhou Province, China. She spent 15 months in an orphanage there before being adopted when she was two years old. She was raised in Greensboro NC with her twin younger brothers who were adopted from foster care. She began studying dance at Greensboro Ballet when she was 3 ½ years old. At age 14, she began training at the UNCSA high school dance program. She was accepted into the UNCSA ballet program for college and is now in her second year. She is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2024. She has attended multiple summer training intensives, including UNCSA, Nutmeg, Houston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Carolina Ballet, and Boca Ballet Theater. Some of her favorite roles that she has performed are Princess Florine and Canary Fairy from The Sleeping Beauty, and Marzipan from The Nutcracker. Katherine hopes to dance professionally at a Ballet company and teach younger students post-graduation.