Parallel Lives

As I sit in this office, a letter to my ballet student self…

By Wiebke Schuster

Wiebke SchusterA few years ago, I wrote a piece to my ballet student self as I was transitioning from that wonderfully mind-numbing feeling of complete exhaustion from dancing all day to sitting in an office. I had yet to turn 24.

As an intern at the Bavarian State Opera, I was surrounded by all the enticing qualities with which ballet had lured me in at an early age: classical music, vibrant artist personalities, audience members – essentially strangers – anticipating the house lights to dim and the conductor to take the podium most every night. The thought of making someone’s world become less anxious, less lonely as you dance, that little idealistic thought, was a big part of my fascination with ballet. Fairy tales, eternal love, magic – yes all that sounds delusional to the rational thinkers. But is it? I don’t own a TV or a desktop computer but I can think of at least five popular TV shows and video games built around the same principals.

I guess it is human nature to try and connect the dots and apply what you learned in another context. Compare and decide: the office type (the label of doom for 14-year-old me!) and the ballet dancer – parallel lives? My attempt to make sense of why and how curiosity and ambition had led me to spend eight hours every day in a desk chair went something like this.

Just getting up in the morning doesn’t scream “the office type” to me, especially when the first thing you do is put on your tights to go stand at the ballet barre. Though, when you look at it, you also put your hair in a bun, wear a uniform of some sort (no pinstripes involved here), and dance to a rhythm that someone else dictates. Qualified for the office type stamp? No way. Doesn’t mean you never will, you know. Embrace the concept of that species, because a couple of things are for sure: they can REST their feet underneath a desk, no need to ever superglue the cracks in between your toes ever again! They can hide behind a computer screen and pretend to be busy at work like they’re curing cancer or something; no more sweating, raising your eyebrows to look ever so attentive and awake, to please. No more sucking in your stomach all the time, no more hateful glances at the elephant you see in the mirror.

No more pinching from teachers into your presumably redundant fat cells, no more fighting the hunger, no more envying the long legged (because they are at a huge disadvantage at a desk that’s fit for the average human being). No more practicing blending in with the wall in order to avoid harsh criticism, no more standing in the back of the room.

Sleeping Beauty moments will only happen when you fall asleep with your eyes open at your desk. Note that you are not expected to fall asleep in fifth position like Giselle at the end of Act I’s famous mad scene. In fact, don’t, because that might cause people to notice something is “off” about you.

Also, please realize that there will be no more kissing princes, only real life frogs you see. You gain a little, you lose a little…


Wiebke spends a good deal of time lost in translation: the native to foreign language, the pen to paper or the body to movement kind. Originally from the small beach town of Cuxhaven, Germany, she came to Los Angeles via Munich to pursue her M.A. in Specialized Journalism at USC.