Profiles of Resilience: Barbara Harris

IMG_7107“I remember when I was eight years old, I drew a picture of what I wanted out life, what I wanted to be when I grow up. The drawing was a building of a dance studio that said “Barbara Harris’ School of Dance.” I never showed my mother or anybody else that picture. My mother was a single mother trying to raise my sister and I. We moved from my hometown in Michigan to Lafayette, IN because of her job. She never had the money to put me in dance classes or any other extracurricular activities, but she always said if we put our minds to it we can do it. When I was 12, I remember we were in Michigan visiting our family, and two of my cousins were doing hip hop. I begged and begged for them to teach me, but since they were boys they had that “girls can’t dance” mentality. So, I taught myself how to do hip hop. I practiced every day. The next time I saw them, I danced with them, and the look on their face was priceless. It wasn’t till my freshman year of high school, in Indiana, when I was able to have my first taste of ballet and ballroom. My high school offered dance classes with a principal dancer of Lafayette Ballet School. I wasn’t too sure what exactly I signed up for till she taught us 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th position. We alternated every other class between ballet and ballroom. At first, I hated ballet and always wanted to do ballroom. When I watched the upper level classes do ballet, something in my soul started burning with passion and I wanted to be just like them. Ever since then, I fell in love with the art. I remember my teacher came over to me, when we were doing plies, and asked if I’ve ever taken a ballet class before because my turn out was really good. I answered no in confusion as she walked away and just continued to watch me. I danced all throughout high school. When I had free time, I was in the dance studio. I danced with the upper level classes and the lower level classes as I began to advance.
The summer before my sophomore year, the ballet school my teacher danced for and taught at were having open auditions for the corps de ballet for the major production The King and I. My dance teacher strongly encouraged me to come, but I was so nervous. I went and felt this instant sensation of home. I was still a little nervous and kept looking to my teacher for confirmation that I was doing okay. A week later I checked the website and saw my name under the list of corps de ballet members. My first major show, first time anybody saw me dance, was in the corps de ballet for the musical production the King and I. Beginning of my sophomore year of high school, my dance teacher came to me and handed me a pair of her dead pointe shoes and asked me to try them on. They fit perfectly. She said usually she would never do this, especially for a student at the high school, but she saw so much potential in me and my feet and ankles were strong enough for pointe now. I progressed so much from freshman to sophomore year. I did all of my barre work on pointe and then she made me take the pointe shoes off for center work. Sophomore year was the year that I first noticed that maybe I could actually make it in the world as a dancer. The summer before junior year, I was granted a scholarship to attend the summer intensive of Lafayette Ballet School. My love, respect, and passion for the art of ballet fully bloomed at that very moment. After the summer intensive, the founder of the school offered me a one half scholarship to attend the school for fall season. Unfortunately, my mother still could not afford the rest of the payments so I had to withdraw from the school. Nonetheless, I still continued my training at my high school. My teacher noticed how serious I was and that I wasn’t just taking the class to get out of doing something else. She paid special attention to me and always gave me corrections and told me when I was doing something right. By my junior year, whenever we had a substitute teacher, I taught the class ballet. I was super scared and nervous to teach my peers, but my teacher said I had the knowledge and skill to teach the class. My senior year of high school, I was 100% sure that dancing is what I wanted to do with my life. The performing arts center of my high school (band, orchestra, choir, dance) had a mid year recital to showcase our talents to the public, family, and friends. The dance department performed Peter and the Wolf. We had the corps de ballet filled with the lower level classes and we had the soloists filled with the upper level classes. My teacher gave me the roll of the cat because it had the most ballet technique in it. Performing the roll of the cat, was the first time I actually disappeared from the world. Transcending my soul into the roll of the cat. I didn’t think about anything, just living in that moment. After the show, so many people came up to me and commended on me on doing so well. I didn’t know the founder of Lafayette Ballet School was in attendance until she came up to me and hugged me. She apologized for not giving me a full scholarship to the school and said that after high school if I don’t move out of town for college that she would be willing to work with personally so I don’t waste my potential. I honestly wanted to cry at that moment, but I fought the tears with a smile and a big thank you. Second semester of my senior year, my eldest sister passed away. It really took a toll on me because the only performance she got to see me dance in was the the King and I. I remember her telling me after that performance to never give up on my dreams and to pursue dance because she too can see my potential and my passion for dance. After my sister’s death, I started abusing alcohol to forget about the pain. I was so young and I would make it a goal to drink every day, some how, some way. It wasn’t till the end of my senior year when I realized the consequences of those actions.
The performing arts department wanted to put on an end of the year show since our mid year show received really good reviews. My dance teacher wanted to a pas de deux starring me and one of our male dancers. We were going to the pas de deaux Puss and Boots from the Sleeping Beauty ballet that the Royal Opera House did. We we rehearsing one day after school and I felt this sharp pain on my right side and it hurt so bad I had to stop dancing and go home. i didn’t think anything of it till the next day when I had to miss school because I was in so much pain. That night, I couldn’t sleep due to the pain so my mother took me to the ER. The doctors said my kidneys were failing and if I would’ve waited the next day or two to come in, I would’ve been hospitalized. I battled with kidney infection and small intestines infections for the rest of my summer year up and till the summer after. I wasn’t able to dance for about five months. After I graduated high school, I went back to Michigan and attended Michigan State University majoring in Veterinary Medicine, talk about a waste of my potential. I joined the MSU dance team to continue dancing, seeing as that was my first love. I walked aimlessly around campus wondering what if. What if I would’ve stayed in Indiana? What if I would’ve taken the offer to Lafayette Ballet School? Sophomore year of college, my sister came to me in a dream and told me to leave MSU and find a way to pursue my dreams. I talked to my academic adviser to see if they offered dance as a major, but of course they didn’t and only offered it as a minor. That means that I would have to major in Musical Theater which I wasn’t interested in. I thought long and hard about what I should do. Either transfer to a different school or look into a performing arts college. My mother called me one day and told me her job was offering her a position in Arizona and she was going to accept the offer. That same night, my sister came to me again, in my dream, and told me to go with her and follow my dreams. That next morning I woke up, ran to my adviser and told her I was dropping out of my dream school to follow my passion. She asked me if I had a plan and I said no, but I can’t stay here any longer and wonder what if. One way or another, I’m determined to make it.
Now, at the age of 21, I reside in Arizona and am in my very first company. Lavish Dance Company. It is a locally known company that was founded last year, but we focus on hip hop, jazz, and a tad bit of burlesque. It’s not exactly what I want to do with my career, but it’s allowing me to grow and become a well rounded dancer. I taught myself contemporary and a tad bit of modern and I’m finding myself in those movements. Ballet is my first true love and I’ll always call a ballet studio home, but right now I want to be known as a well rounded dancer. I haven’t been able to find a studio that will allow me train and that would give me the same level of ballet training I was receiving at my high school. So when I’m not working or at my company rehearsals, I give myself little ballet classes to keep up my fundamental training and ankle strength in hopes that one day I will be able to find a mentor like that of my very first dance teacher. Next year, I have decided to audition for Alvin Ailey. I won’t stop till I make it.”
Follow Barbara on Instagram at http://instagram.com/dancingbarrefoot
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