Photos courtesy of Lily Schwendener
As students living in Westchester, we have grown up to a chorus of voices singing the praise and promise of college. For many of us, college is a life milestone right up there with getting married and having a family. It is simply a given, and one we see no reason to challenge.
Lily Schwendener ’17 is one of the rare people that have decided to fashion their own idea of a future. She is working to become a professional dancer, in classical ballet. Just as it is the case with most careers in the arts, it takes incredible passion and commitment to make such a bold move against the current of expectations. And for a student of classical dance, the decision to become a professional not only means dedicating endless amounts of time to practice and training, it also means becoming fully committed to a future that’s far off the beaten path.
Schwendener described in an interview with The Globe how she was aware of the scale of the decision she had to make. “It was a constant struggle of, do I want a normal life and to go to college, or do I want to actually be a professional?” she admitted. “But by tenth grade I was all in it emotionally and physically.”
Now, Schwendener spends every afternoon training at the School of American Ballet, taking only chemistry, US history and English at MHS every morning before taking the train into the city. Practicing classical ballet is draining and exhausting, and it’s famous for its rigorous training and difficult techniques. Even though it is nothing short of a workout, her training takes place six days a week. Dance is a whole other world of stress and hard work outside of school, and Schwendener admits that she has moments when it’s hard to stay confident in her decision. “It’s so strenuous and exhausting, and a lot of stress physically and mentally. But when it comes down to it I love ballet… When it gets hard you just have to pick yourself up.”
Only this high level of dedication can make a future out of something as competitive as the arts. According to Schwendener, the desired career for aspiring dancers consists of being employed by a “company” at 18 years old, working in a dance group, and constantly traveling, touring, and performing. Over the course of 10-15 years, apprentices can hopefully reach the position of solo or principle dancer. The life that Schwendener trains for is not exactly a forgiving one, but it is rewarding of hard work. Thankfully, her attendance at the School of American Ballet gives her a position for receiving job offers.
However, the competition in the field is intense and plays a huge factor in training. She says that despite having the advantage of going to the top dance school in the country, “There are so many thousands of dancers fighting for the same thing, it ultimately means I have to work every day as hard as I can.” And since the stakes are so high, success will take everything that she can give. Next year, Schwendener will start training everyday at 10:00 in the morning—in order to graduate, she will be finishing most of her high school education online. She has to focus on securing a job offer, which is when she says she will have her dance career “set in stone.” Only after that does she hope to finally yield from her hard work a little, and to possibly finish taking some classes on the side.
But throughout it all, Schwendener has maintained a strong passion for dance, and as a result has become close to the art form. She says, of her passion, “Dance is an art form in that I can express my feelings and emotions through movement. It’s like telling a story of what the music is trying to say.” It is something valuable to know what you love, and Schwendener is aware of it. She has already started making a life for herself out of her passion, something that many people fantasize about, but are rarely able to make a reality.
In words of inspiration for all of us fantasizers, Schwendener says, “Once the time came for me to know what I wanted to do, the choice was not difficult for me at all. I saw that this is what I wanted to do and from then on I never gave up on it.”
By Leah Roffman