I had the good fortune to be sent by one of my ballet students, a link to a very special video about a courageous, sensitive, and intelligent young woman named Lizzy Howell. This wonderful video was created by Dhar Mann with still dance photography by Jordan Matter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9skk3hIZq98
Lizzy loves ballet and dance so much that despite all the obstacles she has faced, she has never given up. Instead, Lizzy Howell has pursued her lifelong dream. She has met with support and success from some very gifted, special, and supportive people who recognize and laud her unique abilities as a dancer and an individual. Unfortunately, she has also met with many cruel and destructive comments from others, both in-person and on social media.
During a group class one evening, I alerted my students (ages 20 – 60+) to the video. They were all anxious to see it. After watching, they shared some of their thoughts with me. Each one of them could easily relate to Lizzy’s story.
It is indeed an inspiring tale.
I wish to share their reflections with you:
“Anyone who has experienced bullying, or the crushing effects of criticism that is unfair or unkind, will relate to this video. It is an important reminder for all of us to persevere, to be strong through the difficult times, and to believe in ourselves, always. It also illustrates the power of advocacy and what’s possible when we choose to encourage, support, and lift each other up.”
“For me, Lizzy’s story demonstrates the importance of having even just one supportive person in your life. At each point in her story there were moments where someone stepped up and encouraged Lizzy to pursue what she loved. We often don’t know what people have gone through to be in the place they are today, nor the impact of our words and actions. Choosing to show kindness and care to those we encounter cannot be undervalued in a world where judgment, hate, and self-doubt can be overwhelming.”
“I watched the video and unfortunately was not surprised at people’s negative, hurtful and malicious attitude towards Lizzie – it is shameful that people feel so entitled to be toxic towards anyone different than themselves. What was so heart warming though is the people in Lizzie’s life who were there for her – encouraging her and supporting her dreams. Blessings on them and on Lizzie for not giving up.”
“This story really resonated with me. As I remember, when I was a teenager doing Gymnastics, I felt the pressure growing up. I was told I was not tall enough and that I was never thin enough, or I didn’t look the part. When I went into ballet years ago that pressure was definitely still there. This video brought to light a lot of unspoken truths that are unfortunately still going on now. I felt very proud of this girl, though I do not know her personally. She was at a disadvantage more so than most. She had a dream, and she pushed for it and pursued it no matter what. She didn’t give up no matter how hard it got, and she got noticed for it. I feel most people can relate to this girl on some level. We all have dreams we wish to pursue and sometimes we are too scared to do so. We feel the pressures of Society. We feel we don’t fit into that particular mould, so we give up. This girl showed a lot of people and me what determination and perseverance look like. Now starting ballet up again in my 30s I was uncertain but having an amazing instructor like Donna who also showed me that to work hard, and never give up, I can make something small beautiful. I feel I can do this!”
“Perhaps the world of ballet is the perfect microcosm of the world at large? Ballet is revered for its beautiful aesthetic. Many appreciate how physically demanding it is to achieve “perfection”. This short film deals with many themes, including how perfection is defined, and who gets to define it. I appreciate that there was no magic wand- we see that Lizzy has to work at it and persevere and gain confidence. What a great reminder of how much difference a little bit of kindness can make (and also how deeply a few mean comments can make). What I really enjoyed was the epilogue where we got to meet the real Lizzy. There may be universal themes, but to know our protagonist is a real person, and how this has affected her has real impact. Her real life dance photos are amazing!”
“That was such an interesting video — Lizzy is amazing. (Also those split jumps…wow!) I remember one in-person class when one of your senior students joined a class I was in; shorter than me, but with a similar body type. It was so inspirational, especially because she jumped so well. Like Lizzy, I have to take medicine that makes it very difficult to lose and keep off weight, something I don’t feel inclined to shout from the roof tops. So while my body is not a traditional size, in my ways, it’s healthy and stronger than it’s ever been. It’s so hard to work that hard, and then have people make an uninformed judgment.
It took me a long time to find a place to study ballet where I didn’t feel judged for being too tall, too big (even when I’m thin, I’m big), not flexible, not coordinated, etc. It’s weird to me that these attitudes are so pervasive, even in ballet classes where the students are studying simply for recreation or because they love the art form. Finding leotards that work on a non-traditional body is difficult too, how many leos are cut low in the front and back, making it difficult for those of us who need a bra? And that’s if you have the fortitude to get past the judge-y store clerks. (If I could, I would design a beautiful leotard that would work with a proper bra or even have a proper supportive bra built in.)
I also think ballet schools/classes (and schools in general) need to invest more in creating anti-bullying environments. I think we’d all do better, working from a place of support. There’s a way to correct that leads to progress!
Thank you for sharing–those are more initial thoughts, but I’d still processing. I’m just really glad that I found Ballet Espressivo.”
To conclude, Lizzy, Dhar, and Jordan have shown us how precious and unique our dreams are and how following one’s dream can help others too.
It’s never too late to start studying ballet!