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Stories from a dance career: San Francisco Chronicles

I remember the excitement like it was yesterday. I was going to be starting as a soloist with The San Francisco Ballet. Nerves, uncertainty, the prospect of new beginnings were swirling circles in my mind.

Marie-Claire and I were staying with my parents while we got set up in a new country. We took the ferry in to the city from Marin County. The early morning trip across the bay was bumpy, and the salty sea air combined with the taste of Starbucks coffee created a unique anchor to that time in my life.

It was a different experience to have such a long commute to work, as it we lived only 5 minutes from the opera house in Vienna, but it gave us time to wake up in the morning and debrief in the evenings.

As we entered the building on the first day we had to wait for the company manager to let us in as we didn't have building passes yet, more waiting, more anticipation. Everything was foreign, even though it was the city and country of my birth. The locker rooms felt strange after having private dressing rooms, even the studios lacked the comfort and inherent experience of previous generations, opting for a much more corporate almost mechanised feel.

We were introduced to the other company members before the class and I remember feeling welcome but not at home and then the biggest fear I had was spoken out loud in what seemed like megaphone volume even though it was merely quietly whispered to me.

The ballet master teaching the class shook my hand and said quietly, "I expected you to be bigger, we're going to have to bulk you up."

Years of personal fears of being too weak/skinny/small to partner came rushing back in that moment and whatever confidence I might have had was squashed in that moment. I was never the muscular, bravura male dancer. I had a more lyrical quality and my build was not the broad shouldered adonis that was obviously expected of me.

Unfortunately, not much guidance was offered on just how I should go about "bulking up". It seemed the company's approach was going to be partnering me with the tallest women which was an immediate struggle for me as I had grown accustomed to working with the shorter European dancers. Of course this only seemed to diminish my perception of my ability, as I continuously failed to lift and partner effectively. Gone were the more delicate dancers of Europe, I was going to have to get faster, stronger, and more athletic quickly or injury was bound to come my way.

By the end of the first week, both Marie-Claire and I were feeling battered physically and emotionally. The commute had begun to take it's toll on our energy levels and Marie-Claire found herself coming off of injury and fighting to get back in dancing shape quickly. The support of my Vienna family and director were no longer there and I was struggling to give my best. To top it all off, and to end the first week we found out that I would be going on tour to London in just 2 months and Marie-Claire would not be going.

Our challenges were only just beginning.

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