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Journeys through ballet: A student’s experience

When Kami Brandes (’13) started ballet, she didn’t know the effect it would have on her. Twelve years later, she reflects on her study and her future plans in ballet with DEPUTY EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ANNA YOUNG

Kami Brandes (’13) didn’t choose ballet. When she was five years old, she stumbled upon it. “I was too shy to do anything else,” she said. “I was drawn in, but I also couldn’t do anything else so my mom was like, ‘You have to go here and you have to do this because I’m not letting you sit at home.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’”

She has been training as a ballerina since then and is taking her vocational exam for the intermediate level of the Cecchetti method of ballet. The Cecchetti method, named after the Italian ballet master Enrico Cecchetti, focuses on the physical style of dancing and stresses athleticism and fluidity in dancing.

Brandes hopes to use her qualification to get into dance troupes both during her college years and afterward. “I love small children and I love ballet, but I feel like I’m not in the correct position in my life to make the decision [of] whether I want to teach or not because I want the experience of dancing,” she said.

Brandes trains for nine hours a week for the exam at the Highgate Ballet Academy, with five hours of independent practice.

In order to pass the exam, she must complete full barre work, full center work, pointe work, a dance, set exercises and a theory test. And for her, everything revolves around it. If she fails the first time, “There’s another one in June. It’s like the SAT – they happen all year-round – so I would just go for the next one and do it until I get it. And if that means postponing college, then that’s fine because I’m not going to college without my intermediate exam passed,” she said.

Ballet has influenced Brandes’s college search. She is looking at schools both in New York and in California because of the partnerships they have with dance companies. She plans to dance professionally in college. Some schools are directly linked to dance companies, so her application to them will include an audition to their company.

“Kamillah is a dedicated dancer who is truly serious about her work and I am sure she will achieve in her chosen field,” Brandes’s teacher Allison Dos Santos said.

Dos Santos is the teacher who got Brandes interested in dancing the Cecchetti method and has been teaching her ever since.

Brandes has been dancing with Dos Santos for five years, first at the London Studio Center and then at the Highgate Ballet Academy. They met when Brandes was trying out for the London Junior Ballet.
Brandes did not make the company, but when she left the audition she saw Dos Santos teaching a class across the hall. “Some of the girls looked more like me, because I don’t really look like a ballet dancer. So she [Brandes’s mother] got the details of the lady and she’s been my teacher ever since,” she said.

Dancing has been an emotional outlet for Brandes and a break from the stresses of high school. “In ballet you can’t really let it get to you,” she said. “I think that’s why I like it because everything is so hectic and stressful and there’s like eight different things to think about every day, but I go in a class and I only have to think about one thing.”

Brandes tries to keep a degree of separation between her dancing life and her school life. She doesn’t talk much about dancing when she is at school and tries to “compartmentalize” the competitive nature of ballet to her dance school and auditions. The rigidity in her ballet schedule has helped her make strong friendships in her school. For much of her time in middle school and high school, Brandes had dance classes on Friday and Saturday nights. “Now that I don’t have classes on Fridays, I can go and hang out with my friends a lot more. But I still managed to make good friends,” she said.
From buying ballet equipment to driving her to training to attending all of her performances, Brandes’s parents have always been there for her. “Even when it didn’t seem like I wanted to do it that much, they were like, ‘You’ve got to go for it. You’ve got to do it because what will you have without it?’” she said.

Between the ages of 12 and 15, ballet became more difficult for Brandes and she became less enthusiastic about it, but her family kept her motivated. “But when I hit 16, almost automatically, I was just like, ‘This feels so good, I have to do this for the rest of my life,’” she said.

Since then, she has loved ballet. “I love feeling the extension through the body,” she said. “That’s the highest that I could ever be in life. And I love feeling my bare feet on the floor and really using the floor.”

Brandes’s style is a very athletic one. She does not have a classic ballet form and uses this to her advantage when dancing Cecchetti ballet. “She is very fluid and lovely to watch,” Dos Santos said.
Though she originally thought she would stop dancing before college because she was not sure if she wanted to teach when she had to retire, she said, “I was like, ‘I can’t stop. That’s like not breathing. It doesn’t make any sense.’”

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