Kathleen Breen Combes Writes a Letter to Her Teenage Self
Kathleen Breen Combes in George Balanchine's Serenade (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
Kathleen Breen Combes may be only 5' 4", but she looks like the tallest person onstage—an optical illusion created by her oversized jump and radiant charisma. Raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Combes had difficulty walking as a child because her leg muscles were underdeveloped. Hoping to strengthen Combes' legs, her mother enrolled her in ballet class, and Combes took to it immediately. She trained at the HARID Conservatory and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before earning a contract with The Washington Ballet in 2000. Three years later she joined Boston Ballet, where she became a principal dancer in 2009. Catch Combes in BB's “Pricked" program and George Balanchine's Jewels this spring. —Margaret Fuhrer
My dearest Kathleen,
First, thank you. Thank you for your hard work, your sacrifices and the strong foundation you've laid for your future. Here are a few things to remember on your journey:
Right now you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a professional dancer. Deep down you know you do. It'll be hard work——I'm not even going to tell you how hard——but it'll be worth it. During those rare onstage moments when all the work combines with your passion for dance, creating an indescribable feeling, the hours of training and rehearsal will seem like nothing.
Combes as a teenager (Photo by Bill Keefrey)
Watch people to learn, not to compare or critique. It's great to admire pointed feet, high legs and multiple pirouettes, but spend more time watching the approach, the intention, the tilt of the head and the focus of the eyes. At some point everyone in the room will be just as talented as you, and the little things will be what set you apart.
Become reliable. Use your brain just as much as your body. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want——be strong and know your worth. It's OK to acknowledge your abilities and fight for them.
Quit hiding your weaknesses. Everyone has them. Strive for perfection in rehearsal, but when you step onstage, know that it's your imperfections that make you interesting. And don't be afraid to fail. You'll learn a lot from your failures. Give it your all——the worst you can be is bad.
Enjoy every day, even when you're tired, unmotivated or sore. Your career will fly by, so relish the process.
Work on yourself as a person. Remain authentic, listen, learn and watch. And enjoy the ride, because it's a really great one.
P.S. Listen to your mom when she tells you to keep taking college classes.
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School of American Ballet students (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy SAB)
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