By Rajvi Khanjan for KidSpirit's Fulfillment Issue
"A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms."
— Zen proverb
I remember the first day of ballet very clearly, the nervousness bubbling up inside of me, but a sense of excitement, too. I remember wondering what it would feel like to dance so gracefully, as if on clouds.
As soon as I stepped into the class, though, all excitement dissolved. The scene in front of me was not at all what I was hoping for: 4-year-olds, all of them shorter than me by at least a head. I felt ridiculous.
We began the class with splits. I could barely get my legs a few inches down, while everyone around me was practicing their oversplits.
“Wow, have you never done the splits before?” one of the girls asked me. I later learned her name was Hannah. She had the best flexibility in the class.
“Um . . . no . . . no, I haven’t,” I admitted, a bit sheepishly.
“Really?” Mimi, who had introduced herself right away, wondered.
I nodded in response, feeling more out of place than ever. How was I going to make it through one ballet class, let alone the entire session?
“Well, don’t worry, we’ll help you!” Sophie comforted.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about having to learn from those so much younger than me, but at least the class would go much more smoothly, right?
By the end of our warmup, my muscles ached and I was so sore — and we hadn’t even started learning ballet!
All through class, I struggled to keep up, even with the trio’s help, while everyone around me quite easily mastered the steps the teacher taught us.
As we began one choreography after another, I began to lose confidence in myself.
I was used to being one of the best at whatever I did, so it was embarrassing for me to struggle so much. To be one of the worst in the class was a heavy blow.
Even so, I tried to find the good in the situation. My younger peers were willing to help me out, and that was encouraging. The music we used was ethereal, light, and beautiful, and I felt at peace with myself when I practiced the movements. My teacher seemed quite nice, exemplifying the poise and confidence of a ballerina, which strengthened my own resolve to do ballet. And some of the photos of ballerinas around the studio were breathtaking, illustrating the kind of beauty I wished to feel while dancing.
However, I ended up hating that first class, and hating ballet.
But as time went by and I gradually got better, I started to like ballet a little bit more, although I still felt inferior to the others.
About two months later, I learned that one of my peers did ballet, as well. I was hoping to bond over a common experience, but she simply asked me what level I was. When she learned that I was a beginner, she scoffed. Her snarky reply added to the voice in my head that whispered I was inadequate. This just rubbed salt in the wound.
I was on the verge of quitting, although something inside of me wouldn’t let me. The shame of being incompetent made me question the point in doing ballet anymore. After all, no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be the best, and anything worth doing meant being the best at it.
But then came the breakthrough.
That day, after my ballet class, I watched a class of older students. One of the dancers especially caught my eye. She leapt and pirouetted into the air. It seemed as if she were dancing on moonbeams. She wasn’t speaking, but I felt so much that I think we might have been talking in a language of emotion, of discoveries, of leaps over walls, of triumph over life’s trials and tribulations. There was a love for ballet and all that it represented in her movements. Sure, she wasn’t the most technically advanced in her class, or the fastest learner, but these traits seemed superficial. I was inspired by her, and how she did something for the love of it, not for the materialistic gains that might follow. She showed me what one looks like when they are trying to pursue the right kind of happiness and satisfaction, and I was motivated by the way she questioned what I thought of as the definition of success.
Suddenly my mind came upon a quote from Agnes George de Mille, an American dancer and choreographer: “Many other women kicked higher, balanced longer, or turned faster. These are poor substitutes for passion.”
All my life, I ranked myself based on how good I was. But what I have learned is that true satisfaction in your achievements comes when you are proud of your own progress, comparing it to no one else’s. It is important to accept that there will always be people better than you. You are living your own journey, and it’s important to believe in it. True fulfillment in life comes not from being better than others, but from being better than the person you were yesterday.
The next day at ballet class, I let the music wash over me and transport me to magical places. And within me, a fire, deeper than what consumed me, burned. I understood why I felt so moved by the older student’s dancing — it showed me what pure joy looks like, how ballet is meant to be an expression of our growth from who we used to be and how far we have come — and I let this new perspective guide me.
My life was no longer ruled by medals or trophies, but something much, much deeper.
When she wrote this piece, Rajvi Khanjan Shroff was a 9th grader in Santa Clara, California. She is an avid reader and likes to solve puzzles. Rajvi loves to learn about the world around her, and believes in looking for the beauty in the everyday! She likes the thought-provoking articles on KidSpirit, and the insight and unique perspectives they offer.