We've asked Lillian Sears, 8, from Atlanta, GA where she trains at Atlanta Professional Dance Academy to speak about dancing, how she conquers negative talk, and dancer perceptions online. Enjoy! And remember never too young to teach, never too old to learn!
Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started ballet when I was two. I kept telling my parents I wanted to wear a tutu. At the end of my first class I asked my mom and my teacher what I needed to do to be a professional. I started dancing around the house all of the time, and by the time I was seven I was serious and passionate about doing ballet "right."
I made the hard decision to leave my first studio in May 2019 for Atlanta Professional Dance Academy (APDA) after one of my coaches Kristi Necessary recommended it. Miss Kristi had been my private coach for about six months, and her old partner from Atlanta Ballet had a studio. I literally auditioned after dress rehearsal for a recital at my old studio. I washed my make up off in the car on the way there.
APDA was a dream come true. Mr. Wei Dongsheng and his wife Miss Jenny Chen saw something in me even though I wasn't as good as the other dancers. They offered me a spot, and I've been there for just over a year. My teachers have pushed me further than I knew possible. I've grown so much since starting. In addition to Mr. Wei and Miss Jenny I also work with Miss Dana Crigler for ballet, Miss Mi Li for character, and Miss Sarah for Chinese folk dance.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I would say sort of. I've been really lucky that my parents are really supportive. We were supposed to take a family vacation to Philadelphia this summer so I could go to Rock School for a month, but COVID obviously changed that like it did for so many people. I have two brothers and somehow my parents have figured out how to be supportive of what we love and do. I had the opportunity to work with Chun Wai Chan from Houston Ballet and a bunch of dancers from Ballet West through ArtEmotion this summer, and honestly it was amazing. The biggest upside to COVID is the access to some of the best dancers in the world. Normally kids don't get that!
I have to work really hard at ballet. Some people can naturally turn or leap, and I'm not that person. What makes it great is that I love it, and I don't mind putting in the work. My teachers are so supportive and push me because they know my dreams. Some days I wish I was an amazing turner or had the best arms, but I know it will come.
What personal limitations if any did you go through in your young career?
I have scoliosis, but professional dancers like Beckanne Sisk have shown that it doesn't have to be career ending. My pediatrician is watching it closely and so far my curve is only 12°. We are hopeful it actually gets better, but we have a plan in case it doesn't. Luckily it is at the very bottom of my spine so my shoulders and hips are still straight and even.
Has anybody ever tried to limit you on what you could do? If so how did you fight it?
Yes. One time someone told me I was never going to be a good turner so just not worry about it. I was six. It was hurtful, because I was so young. How could they know? I cried. I'm not the best turner or good at tricks, but my technique is pretty good. When they told me that I decided to really work at turning. It was motivational in a way.
How do you conquer negative talk?
I have a bad habit of getting in my own head and getting frustrated. I wish I could say I stay calm, but I don't. Miss Dana Crigler, one of my teachers, calls me out on it, and I really need it. She will say "You aren't preparing!" When I get frustrated I tend to just want to go at what I'm doing really hard which causes more frustration. I am really working on taking deep breaths and slowing down.
I also really focus on how unrealistic Instagram is. My mom and I did an experiment where I took a bunch of pictures of her doing ballet poses, and we got a really good one even though she never danced! It made me realize that Instagram is the best of everyone. Just because someone has a perfect photo doesn't mean it didn't take 50 tries to get there. It has helped me understand that ballet is the search for perfection not actually being perfect. Sometimes we just don't check Instagram for a week or more if it seems really crazy or I have a lot of hard classes that week. I like it because I can see professionals, but I don't like how kids think they have to be perfect. I don't follow many kids because of it. I love seeing people's hard work though! I really really love cheering on people and supporting them!!
What is your favorite quote?
Dancing is my obsession. My life. [Mikhail Baryshnikov]
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Well our 2020-2021 season has started, but there is no Nutcracker. I am training for my second Universal Ballet Competition in early March 2021. It is the only competition I do. Other than that I am getting together a list of summer intensives I want to audition for in the coming months. I want to really keep focusing on my technique so I'm taking extra private lessons to work on things!!