Through blood and blisters to training with the Radio City Rockettes – OXFORD STORIES


Aleksandra Arwood
Oxford Stories
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Aleksanda Arwood in her ballet costume.  Photo submitted.
Aleksanda Arwood. Photo submitted.

Tape, bandages, bobby pins, tights, leotards, pointe shoes, character heels, tap shoes, sweater tights. I pack my bags and head to the studio. I had a nine-hour rehearsal day ahead of me.

When we are children, our parents usually choose activities that we participate in that they believe will allow us to thrive. Maybe it’s football or football, or maybe it’s something more artistic or academic.

My parents? They were all about the arts – all the arts – and enrolled me in what seemed like any course offered: visual arts, acting, singing and dancing. It didn’t take long for all of us to discover that my drawing and painting skills left a lot to be desired, and my singing and acting abilities were beyond embarrassing to all of us.

Now dancing was another story.

I think my mom always imagined that I would get on stage and pirouette my way to success. So much so that she named me after Russian ballerina Aleksandra Dionisyevna Danilova.

I had to believe it, because at 2 years old, my everyday outfit was a light pink leotard with an attached chiffon skirt. In my little brain, I was a prima ballerina about to make her debut. I wore it so faithfully that my parents had to squeeze in a wash and dry during nap time without me being the wiser.

When I was finally old enough to walk on my own, they enrolled me in a preschool ballet class and, much to their delight, it was appropriate for me to wear my light pink leo. I still remember jumping over hoops pretending they were fire pits.

At the age of 5, we moved from our sleepy little town of Newnan, Georgia, to the rural town where my dad grew up: Thomasville, Georgia, the quail capital of the world and probably the most creative community. flourishing South (thanks to my mother who runs the arts center).

Luckily for us, the center was and still is home to the South Georgia Ballet, a pre-professional dance company founded by my aunt. It has become my home away from home every afternoon.

Aleksandra Arwood performing the ballet.  Photo submitted.
Aleksandra Arwood. Photo submitted.

At the age of 6 I was exposed to ballet, tap and jazz, and my love for dance took off. I was instantly hooked. Every other day after school, I would arrive at the center and literally jump into my dance class, eager to transform into the prima ballerina I saw in my head.

As the years passed and my skills improved, my love for dancing grew. In third grade, I auditioned to join the ballet company.

I remember being terrified walking into the studio for my audition. The room was bright and each of my friends were positioned at the ballet barre next to me, large numbers pinned to our chests. As the panel of judges sat before us, marking our every move, I fell into my prima ballerina trance and performed my little heart.

Two weeks later, I received the letter. I was officially accepted into the company and was excited to try on pointe shoes, tutus and corsets for each of my new costumes. I was only in grade school at the time, but felt like I was stepping into a professional business.

During my freshman year of high school, I danced my very first solo piece. I was cast as the Columbine doll in our annual production of The Nutcracker. The kissy doll role was my dream come true, and I spent the next three months perfecting her steps.

After that, I became a company soloist, and with that honor came a new chapter in my dance history, marked by blood, sweat and years of tears. As my love for dancing continued to grow and the accolades from our clients bombarded me like rain, I constantly told myself that I wasn’t good enough for the roles I was being given. I knew deep down that I had the ability, but my brain wouldn’t allow me to accept my talent or see my progress.

My teachers also noticed my distress. They were like, “Stop dancing like you’re apologizing. You have to own your steps because right now they own you. I slipped into a deep phase of disgust and constant comparison with my friends.

Ballet, my favorite thing in the world, started to destroy me. I started thinking I was too big to be a ballerina and became obsessed with losing weight. “Ten pounds lighter and you can have taller legs,” I thought to myself as I stood in front of the mirror. At 16, 5-foot-8 and weighing 115 pounds, I certainly didn’t need to lose weight, but I couldn’t see it at the time.

I became too skinny and too weak to take a one-hour ballet class. I imagined my 5-year-old self spinning around the ballet studio and realized how sad that was. I knew I was damaging my body and needed to make some changes to regain my strength.

At that time, I became interested in the Radio City Rockettes. I was captivated by the strength of women in this dance body and began to see my body and my training differently.

Aleksandra Arwood trains with the Rockettes.  Photo submitted.
Aleksandra Arwood. Photo submitted.

Through hard work and determination, I was lucky enough to train with the Rockettes for a summer. Dancing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in New York and learning steps coveted and cherished by people all over the world, was a new dream come true.

Right now I’m taking a break from training to focus on my college studies, but soon I’ll be back strong. The little dancer that my mother – and I – imagined me to be is still in me, and I want to make her proud of what she has become. Proud to be a strong, confident woman, and one day proud to be a Radio City Rockette.


Tagged as: ballet, dance, featured, Georgia, Mississippi, ole miss, Oxford, Radio City Rockettes, Thomasville, University of Mississippi

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