I have spent the last 13 years of my life doing one thing: dancing. It has been one of the only constants in my life for over a decade. Whenever I have been angry or exuberantly happy, I get to dance; I get to express my emotions and my character through movement. As I approach my final performance with the New England Dance Theater, I have been reflecting on my experiences with dance: my triumphs, my losses, my friendships, my injuries, and the lessons I have learned.

I started just like every other little girl, wanting to be a prima ballerina in a tutu. Though most girls quit dance to pursue soccer, lacrosse, or some other activity, I kept with it. While every other girl went to soccer practice, I went to the studio. While some are sleeping late on the weekends, I am at rehearsal. But, hey, that’s what I signed up for.

For some reason beyond my control, people think ballet is incredibly easy and believe that anyone can do it. In actuality, it is an extremely physically demanding activity. For six or more hours every Saturday and Sunday, my company and I dance, sometimes with only a few short breaks. With sweat dripping down our faces and blisters covering our toes, we grin and bear it, making it look easy. Because ballet is a performing art, we have to create a magical illusion for the audience: one where the dancers are never out of breath, the smiles on their faces never falter, their legs never quiver from exhaustion, and their energy never dwindles. We make ballet look easy. Besides being physically demanding, ballet has demanded so much from me emotionally. From these demands, I have learned a lot about myself.

I have learned a lot from my experiences with dance; I have learned to work for what I want. No one can get far in life if they don’t try. The dedication I have to dance is something that usually helps me get the role I want. The dedication I have to dance is crucial; this intense dedication will help me succeed in whatever field I decide to pursue. However, I have learned that there are exceptions. There have been times when roles I have labored for have gone to other dancers, whether or not they deserve it. I have had my fair share of meltdowns over parts, but I’ve learned how to move on from disappointment in order to perfect whatever role I have been given. I’ve screamed “It’s just not fair!” at my directors countless times, and then learned how to handle frustrating situations. I know that I will be able to handle disappointment in my future outside of dance because of my ability to channel my frustration into improving myself in other roles.

Performing is worth it to me; it’s worth everything I have dealt with. My final performance in the Nutcracker as both Snow Queen and the Arabian Princess brought me to tears. As my partner carried me off stage after Arabian, I couldn’t help but smile. The applause I received was worth it. It was worth all of it. When I took my final bow in front of the audience, nothing but my love for dance mattered. The dancers who had stabbed me in the back no longer mattered. It didn’t matter that I had been kicked out of that one audition because a blister bled through my pointe shoes. The hundreds and hundreds of times I had fallen in class, in rehearsal, or in performance didn’t matter. At that moment, I realized that I just needed my own passion to help push me to reach my dreams. Now, as I get closer and closer to my final show with the New England Dance Theater, in which I will be performing three soloist roles, I have been clutching to my passion to keep me motivated to perform my best.

I have sweat until I thought I would die and bled until I cried, but then laughed like I have never known pain. I have felt disappointment that has stung, and then pushed myself to every boundary of my being. I have made friendships that have lasted over a decade and I’m sure they’ll last much longer. And, most of all, I have discovered my passion for performing. Despite all of my personal triumphs and losses, ballet has been the most rewarding and worthwhile part of my life and I plan to continue it in college. It has certainly left a big mark on me, just as I hope to have left a mark on my fellow company members’ and my directors’ lives.

Sarah Sprole is 17 years old and a senior at Wilton High School. She was a dancer at New England Academy of Dance for 13 years, and will be majoring in biology at Northwestern University in the fall. Her performances will take place in the New Canaan High School theater on June 15 and 16. To purchase tickets, visit neadance.com.