A heartbreaking injury forced Samantha to reevaluate her future as
a dancer. In her essay, she describes how she dealt with the decision
that she says “changed the course of (her) life." At Horace Mann High
School, Samantha was editor of the school’s weekly newspaper, president
of the Shakespeare Club and governor of the Northeastern State
in the Junior State of America, the highest elected student position. She
plans to work in journalism or law.
How Podiatry Begat Oratory - Princeton University
The ostrigonum is largely unknown outside dance circles. As its Latin name
suggests, it is a bone of triangular shape, typically equilateral. It is found at
the base of the ankle and is no greater than two centimeters in size. Like
its better-known anatomical counterparts, the tonsils and appendix, this
vestigial bone is an evolutionary dead end. My very personal discovery of
it forced me to reevaluate my dance career and to seek application of its
My summers were spent dancing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center
since Madam’s stick came to rest at my side. Madam was one of several
French-speaking pre-Soviet Russian ballet mistresses. Each mistress had a
prized talent, the ability to select from many the few to whom they would
impart the collective wisdom of Petipa, Balanchine and Robbins. I met
Madam and first spied her stick at an annual carnival of tears, the auditions
for the School of American Ballet, teaching affiliate of the New York
City Ballet. Places in the school’s pre-professional program were so coveted
that any applicant’s chance of admission is less than slight. I was 8 and I
thought Madam’s stick prevented her from toppling, but now I understand
that her stick was a divining rod. It navigated a sea of pink satin and then
came to rest near a few modestly nourished hopefuls.
The stick found me, and joy reigned in our previously danceless household.
Family and school schedules would now accommodate my group classes,
private classes, auditions and performances. Three hundred “Nutcracker"
performances at a nonunion $9 each and an assortment of “Sleeping
Beauties" and “Midsummer Night’s Dreams," followed with increasingly
demanding roles and stage time. I joined the company’s trips to the capital
district in summer and returned to Lincoln Center for fall season. On stage
or off, I was defined by teachers, friends and relatives in terms of art. I was
a dancer-student, dancer-daughter and dancer-sister. I saw myself the same
way, and I thought this identity would endure. All changed that summer
when local specialists, Advil and cortisone failed to quiet the superfluous
bone. A surgeon helped the fractured “os," and life as a ballerina in
training had ended. Nature had betrayed me. While recovering, I replayed
Madam’s classes and searched for lessons that could be salvaged and applied
to other aspects of my life. I was too young to be known for what I
used to do.
The bone departed, but the relevance of the lessons remained. From a
young age dance instilled discipline, focus and determination, skills no less
valuable today. In learning choreography, I became analytical, searching
for meaning in movement just as words convey feelings in poetry. I could
communicate with the last row of any arena through pacing, cadence and
rhythm. Ballet was my unconventional prerequisite for political debate,
journalism and Shakespeare. When I joined Junior State of America (JSA)
the gavel on the podium became my siren as Madam’s stick upon the hardwood.
In JSA the theatre is a convention center and the audience is filled
with constituents. My instrument is now my voice and the message my improvisation.
In dance, I learned to move in unison with partners, excellent
preparation for diplomacy. I play to the back rows to use the skills Madam
taught to inspire others to collaborate as a unified corps.
While I have succumbed to the lures of the newspaper, JSA and Shakespeare
with satisfaction and fulfillment, I still think of Madam’s stick and
her lessons that have served me well in all my pursuits. As I stride confidently to the front of the ballroom to open debate conventions, whether
in Boston, Stamford or Washington, D.C., I can still hear Madam reminding
me, “Shoulders down. Chin up. Project!"
Why This Essay Succeeded
One of the strengths of Samantha’s essay is the story. She shares the
tale of her celebrated selection to the School of American Ballet, her
rise as a dancer and her horrific fall. And after all of this, she explains
what she has learned from the experience. Who wouldn’t be moved
by her experience? But even if you haven’t had such a traumatic occasion,
you can see how it helps to be self-analytical and convey what
you have gained from participation in an activity.
The other strength of this essay, and we can’t say this enough for all
of you, is the quality of her writing. Samantha creates a vivid illustration
of Madam, the celebration after being selected and her resulting
experience in JSA. She picks and chooses just the right details to share
without overloading the essay with unnecessary descriptions. A good
writer is economical with words—using only those that are absolutely
essential to the story. This is especially true with the limited space of a
college admission essay.
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