On Pride, Stickers, and Reclaiming Ballet

I did ballet throughout middle and high school. I had a light blue water bottle that I took with me from school to ballet. I never put any stickers on it – I didn’t know enough of myself at that point to feel comfortable advertising my identity in this way, and my experiences with ballet only served to reinforce this discomfort.

Myself and the other interns visiting the U.N. for #HIVIsNotACrime!

For all the beauty of this art form, the ideals of ballet have for too long been limited to Eurocentric physical standards idealizing white bodies. As a young Latinx girl, my body fell outside of these imposed norms – something that I was constantly reminded of. I soon realized that not only did I deviate in this way, but also in my budding awareness of my sexuality. Considering the religious influence of my culture, microaggressions in American society towards my ethnicity, and my own sense of disconnect from where my identities as a Latinx and an American existed in conflict with one another, I had no idea how to define myself – much less how to take pride in this confusing identity. The studio I went to wasn’t the best for my mental health; I ended up quitting halfway through high school. From there, I’ve gone on to pursue other activities, but my past with ballet has definitely influenced how I continue to act and perceive the world.

I’ve only just moved to New York to intern with OutRight, and so far it has been the most I’ve ever been immersed in queer culture. I’ve absolutely loved it.

Last Monday, I was excited to attend a Ballez class. It was the first time I’d done ballet since quitting, but, more than that, Ballez advertises itself as being for “all the people whom ballet has left out” on its website. It is an explicitly queer and inclusive space – something I’d never heard in relation to ballet before. I had no idea what to expect from a class, but I knew it was somewhere I had to be.

True to its word, the class was inclusive of everyone, regardless of how they identified. I went by myself, and I was surprised at just how much fun I had. The instructor encouraged us to move however we wished and let loose. This was something I hadn’t experienced in ballet before, and I didn’t know how much I needed it.

A picture of the Ballez company from Lola Hourihane.

I’ve had many moments of pride over the years as I’ve come to terms with who I am, but this moment, reclaiming ballet – something that was such a huge part of my formative years – stands out the most. The complexity of my identities has made me hyper-aware of the spaces I inhabit and my given role within them. In my past with ballet, there was only so much space I felt I could take up. At Ballez, I stretched as much as I could and waved my arms around, and leaped as I pleased, taking advantage of the freestyle exercises to do whatever I wished.

I’m proud to say I’ve grown to a point where I’m comfortable taking up the spaces that previously made me feel unwelcome, in ballet or otherwise. I have so many stickers now. They’re on practically everything I own. The water bottle I took to Ballez was completely plastered in them. I finally feel as though I have the confidence to declare in this small way who I am and what I believe. To me, pride means that I will no longer wait for spaces to accommodate me. I now have the power to claim my own.

This year’s World Pride will be my first time attending a Pride parade, much less marching in one. The queer community has come so far, but there remains critical work to be done. Pride is a protest as much as it is a celebration of our identities; I am proud to take a visible position advocating for my community during this year’s march, and am so excited to be in this unique kind of space with other people who identify as I do. I’ll be filled with pride.