Why I Dance: Allison DeBona

First soloist with Ballet West

DeBona didn’t perform professionally until she was 24. Photo by Matthew Karas.

There is one thing you should know about me: I am the only person who can tell me what I can and cannot do. I have not followed the conventional path to becoming a ballerina. I quit dancing between the 8th and 11th grades because I wanted to be “normal.” It was 1997 and I was supposed to go to my first summer intensive, but I told my mom I’d rather be home for when my little sister was born. So I was a cheerleader, on the drill team and went to football games on Friday nights instead of ballet rehearsal. Then after I returned to ballet, I went to college instead of auditioning right out of high school. Yes, I did all of those things that young ballerinas are told not to do. To the shock of many, perhaps, I auditioned for ballet companies at 23, got my job at Ballet West and opened my first professional production the night of my 24th birthday. I am now 31 years old and a first soloist with Ballet West.

That’s not to say it was easy. Ballet technique requires dedication. It pushes our bodies physically and is the force behind starting every day at the barre. Technique is part of what binds us ballet dancers together. After all, it is what makes ballet an elite art form.

But despite my love of this challenge, it is not the reason why I returned to the barre. Rather, it has to do with what I learned at 6 years old: In class, my teacher asked us to pretend to walk across a field, pick a flower, smell it and place it in a basket in our arms. Even at a young age, I understood that this was more than a task. She was asking us to tell a story without words. It was the moment that I fell I love with dance, with being an artist.

I love coming to work knowing that I can help transform the stage into a place of magic and help the audience forget about their worries for a few hours. I am able to tell the stories of my triumphs and heartbreaks without saying a word, and let someone in the audience know that they are not alone. I may have had to work triple time to catch up to my peers technically, but it never held me back from trying. When you are given the gift to communicate through movement, it is meant to be shared. Dance was always much more than pirouettes and extensions, more than steps. I dance because it truly is the only universal language.