If you asked me to describe myself in three words at any point in my life, “leader” would not have made it on the list. Growing up, I was painfully shy and even when I started to break out of my shell, I cared too much about pleasing others and being likable. That being said, Ballet & Books has taught me that leadership is less of a description and more of a compilation of actions. I learned through Ballet & Books that being a leader means trusting your team, being comfortable with delegation, and creating opportunities for others to reach their goals. Additionally, Ballet & Books taught me that strong leadership allows room for disagreement. There were decisions made that I did not agree with and decisions I advocated for that others did not agree with, and I’m really proud that comfort for healthy conflict existed. Personally, I think I still have work to do in the leadership department, but I’m so incredibly lucky to have great role models in Ballet & Books that have contributed to what the leader I’m working to be looks like. And as I’ve developed as a leader, I’ve also had to come to terms with changing my understanding of what impact looks like.
Prior to joining Ballet & Books, I subconsciously had a romanticized image of what impact looked like: a single climactic moment full of fireworks followed by cheesy montage music. Ballet & Books taught me that it is both unrealistic and less meaningful to put so much weight on one moment. Moments like the dance performance should of course be celebrated ostentatiously, and one-time events still have a great deal of merit, but it was the smaller moments leading up to that and the long-term relationship I have with my mentee that made, and continue to make, the celebrations so special.
In one of those small moments, my mentee and I had been meeting virtually as a result of COVID-19. Over these sessions, we have bonded over the struggles of distance learning and the complicated feelings that result from being at home. During one of our virtual sessions, my mentee suggested that we take turns reading to each other from books we had at home. I went first and grabbed a copy of a collection of Disney Princess stories, some of our favorite classics from the first year we met. I held the book up to the screen and was about to begin, when she objected, “No, that’s for little kids.” As a 21-year-old who proudly admits to still enjoying all of the Disney princess adventures, I was crestfallen. However, I soon realized that we met when she was 6 going on 7 and now, she is 9 going on 10. She is growing and changing, so of course her interests would evolve with her. Moreover, I was thrilled and grateful to be a part of her life and witness these changes.
One big takeaway after working with Ballet & Books is that you can learn just as much from your mentee, if not more, as they can learn from you. Another big takeaway after working with Ballet & Books is that you’re never done working with Ballet & Books. It has been about a year since I was on the E-Board team of the Ithaca chapter and longer since I’ve been a mentor. My mentee has also graduated from the program. Yet since then, I have contributed to the curriculum design of the Ballet & Books Summer 2020 program and am still meeting with my mentee on a weekly basis all these years later. It’s always a highlight of my day to receive an update about another way in which Ballet & Books has extended its impact, whether it’s a new chapter, a new community partnership, or a new video of a mentee dancing and reading. To steal a quote from Troy Bolton’s graduation speech in High School Musical 3, once a part of the Ballet & Books family, always a part of the Ballet & Books family.