Brianna’s essay was one of our tops picks for the Cheval Pointe Shoe Scholarship. She has graciouly agreed to let us share it here. Thank you, Brianna!


Brianna Miller


I have been dancing since I was three years old. My mother, a first generation U.S. citizen, never had the chance to follow her dreams and pursue ballet. I got placed into dancing as soon as possible, so I could have the opportunity that my mother never had. Little did I know that I would be forever thankful for my mom’s decision, which has made me dream and imagine more than most think possible. My mother gave me ballet, but ballet has given me more in return. Grace, flexibility, and strength are aspects that come with training, but the greatest gift of all is the expression ballet brings to my life. If it weren’t for ballet, I think I would see the world with half-open eyes, in a blurry haze of dimly lit colors and shapes. Ballet has given me insight into the world, and most importantly myself. I know who I am because ballet guides me through all the emotions that flood my life. However, trials have tried to bring me down, dimming and even diminishing the guiding light I have found in dance. This is a reflection of when my path was shadowed and bleak, but how dance pulled me out of the darkness to become the stronger person I am today.


Cancer. It’s a sharp word in one’s ears, and was no different in mine when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer my freshman year of high school. How could this happen to my sweet mother, who worked so hard her entire life to give her daughters all the opportunities they wanted? I had no idea that a resentment was building inside of me, a resentment for my circumstances and the way things should be but weren’t. I thought I was doing fine; in fact, I believed I was thriving. I was maintaining good grades, doing well at dance, and spending lots of time with friends and family. I felt normal. It wasn’t until a modern class that I realized I had changed, and not for the better. We were given a fun yet simple task: create a dance based on one of our favorite memories. I chose a happy memory in an effort to keep my spirits up, one of me and my family in our field out in the country, surrounded by long golden grass and a trickling creek under the warmth of the sun. I came up with choreography, but as I showed it to the class the motions fell flat. It was motion with no emotion, a blank piece of paper when I usually danced with vibrancy and color. My teacher didn’t say anything, and I sat back down. I tried to forget about it the best that I could.


The blank abyss of nothing followed me into my next ballet class. We were dancing a beautiful adagio to music that sounded as if it was crafted by angels. My dance teacher, as usual, gave us the instruction to dance like we are connected to this beautiful piece. I tried my best, but I couldn’t give anything more but turnout and a nice port de bra. The reason I danced before was gone, and I felt as if there was little enjoyment I could find from dance anymore. Even with all the support from my dance teachers, I had a weighted feeling of helplessness. However, I decided that I didn’t want any more sympathy or help from anyone. If putting on a smile everyday was what would give me back some normalcy, then I would.


Showing a happy face is exhausting after some time, and I finally quit halfway through my mom’s chemotherapy treatment. I only kept a smile for her, the person who needed me the most. But when I arrived to dance, the smile vanished and I would dance gloomily with no trace of hope or light. My teachers would constantly ask me what was wrong, but I couldn’t give them the truth. I lost my passion for dance. Before, ballet had given me insurmountable pleasure and contentment, but now it was as though it had nothing to give and I had nothing to give back. I stayed quiet, afraid of the new reality of my life.


Just as wildflowers return with the coming of spring, so did my emotions. Not because my mom immediately got better, or because I found how to be happy again through dance. The exact opposite occurred; I danced through my sadness, through my anger, through my fear. I had always loved intense dancing, but I had never channeled it through my own emotions. I have always connected myself through others circumstances, creating a beautiful emotional release with the detachment I needed to feel secure. As I began to realize, my own strong emotions were more powerful than merely using others’ feelings as a safety blanket. There came a day that was the equivalent to when all the flowers and trees bloom, the banner that signals spring is now here. It was the day I went into my modern improv class and completely released. I released all my tensions and anger I had kept hidden for almost a year. I twisted my torso to embody my frustration, I moved sharp to release my anger and anxiety. There was no distant theme I was relating to, only my life that had so much to tell through dancing. By the time I finished, I was holding back tears with something I had not used genuinely in a while–a smile. I was through with holding everything back to keep my fear trapped inside. This dark corner of my mind wasn’t all bad; it gave me a new reason to dance.


Eventually, my mom got better, and two years later she is cancer free. I wanted nothing more than to forget about that strenuous time of my life, but I knew I couldn’t. I must remember the lessons that were unveiled to me even as time goes on. I thought I was strong during that time, but little did I realize that keeping in my emotions made me weak. Strength as an artist is being able to release emotions, whether they are good or bad. This is vital for a dancer, but now it is vital for me simply as a person. I would not live again without emotion or dance, and when one is gone the other cannot exist at its finest. Dance cannot be done without emotion, and I am grateful I went through an experience that showed me how to dance with soul.


To dance is to reach for a word that doesn’t exist,

To sing the heartsong of a thousand generations,

To feel the meaning of a moment in time.

– Beth Jones