Meet Kali Kleiman, 17, from Dallas, TX, but I currently am in my last year at the School of American Ballet.
Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started dancing around the house the second I could walk. I loved music and beats and apparently would smile anytime someone turned music on and would begin to dance. When I was a little older, I went to a little "kiddie college" that trained kids in twirling, and memorizing lines, and dancing. We had to speak in a microphone and learn projection. I remember the first thing we memorized with the Pledge of Allegiance, and we dressed up and recited it and sang "Music, Music, Music"...
"Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music"
I started taking classes at The Dance Company of Wylie when I was five years old and joined their competition team at 6. When I was nine years old, Jacqueline Porter, the Artistic Director and owner of The Dallas Conservatory saw me perform at a talent showcase and offered me a scholarship to training with her. I fell in love with the structure and beauty of a conservatory ballet class and knew that's what I wanted to do! At ten, I competed at my first Youth American Grand Prix, and I loved the one-on-one coaching and attention to every aspect of live performance. I was invited and attended the YAGP New York Finals as a soloist for six consecutive years. Each year I learned more about professional ballet companies and gained exposure to Artistic Directors of leading companies, Master Teachers, and performance experiences and made friends from around the world. I enjoyed the experiences of competing at several international competitions, including World Ballet Competition, ADC IBC, and YAGP! I loved doing well, but learned so much in the process! The real wins were in the experiences! I spent my Summers at the Houston Ballet School, The Rock School in Philadelphia, The School of American Ballet at 12, 14, and 16 years old, and at Ellison Ballet at 15.
Last Summer, after the SAB Summer Intensive, I was invited to stay for the Winter Term. As a first-year student at the School of American Ballet, I was able to participate in the Student Choreographic process, giving me "in-studio" performance opportunities for donors and staff. I was also cast in the school's Lecture Demonstration series "The Beauty of Ballet" in three iconic Balanchine pieces, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, the lead girl in Valse Fantaisie, and the female in the Fancy-Free trio! In addition, I was able to work backstage with the Children's Division during George Balanchine's Nutcracker, as a teachers assistant at SAB, and in the New York City Ballet outreach program for children with Autism.
I am so excited to get back to New York City and begin classes at the School of American Ballet again! Everything about being at SAB, in those studio's, learning from their faculty, it is truly a dream!
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 love this question! It's interesting because so many people assume that my road has been easy. Social media is a great way to market ourselves, but it has to be real too. It's a hard balance between being real and authentic and not being a downer. I'm a super optimist, so even when things are tough, I push through and find the positive. I can assure everyone that this path hasn't been easy, it's been filled with high's and lows. Having said that, I also have to acknowledge that I haven't had it as difficult as some, and diversity is not something I have had to fight through. I think we all live in a personal bubble, and I'm thankful we are opening our eyes to what some of our peers go through. It doesn't diminish my own challenges, but it puts them in perspective.
Having parents that support this journey has absolutely made all the difference. When I've encountered roadblocks or advice that isn't positive, they have refocused my thinking. I've learned to form my own opinion that doesn't have to match up with anyone else's; even if that person is someone, I trust. I think my first struggle was learning that there is a place for everyone, including me if I put in the work. I don't have the ideal body for ballet. I don't have the "tutu line" that the traditional ballet body possesses. I've heard that same problems arise in different formats, from people considered to be ballet experts. I've been told, "you won't get hired in a regular audition, you'll have to go in the back door and know someone who knows someone. You'll have to show them how hard you work, you could be a principal dancer somewhere." You can either hear things like that and think, ok, maybe I should just quit, or you can hear that and think, I HAVE A CHANCE AT THIS and maybe, if I work hard enough, I can obtain the status of principal! You can hear the negative...the part that hurts, or you can find the shred of positive and focus on that! You can buy into thinking smaller, and set your goals lower, or you can aim for THE BEST and dream as big as your heart will let you! You get to control your narrative.
You'll hear people say, are you a leaper or a turner? You may hear people ask if your a dynamic dancer and able to do many styles? You may hear people talk about stage presence as a characteristic of a good dancer, or artistry they might say. I guess I just always took the things I heard and thought, if I don't have the right height or leg length, then I better work on every other thing. I better be a good turner, a high jumper, and develop good artistry. So I try to out-work what I think I am capable of and surround myself with people who push me and inspire me. I look for additional opportunities, that even when I'm exhausted, push me further and make me feel challenged. It's a way of life for me at this point. I want to be different and unique, and that my goal. I want to study technique and work toward that perfection, always. I can't change the things I can't change, but I can work the heck out of everything else!
What personal limitations, if any, did you go through in your young career?
Limitations are the things we can't change. I'm 5'3. I can't change that. I can't make my feet longer to give me an extra inch or two, I wear a 5.5. Everything else is just a challenge to work through.
Has anybody ever tried to limit you on what you could do? If so, how did you fight it?
Sure. As a student, I have to recognize that even our teachers are shaped by their own experiences. The world evolves. Just like we are seeing a shift in the acknowledgment of diversity, we have also seen body types changes on the stage. I choose to see the limits people put on me as the limitations that they may have experienced before things evolved. I think sometimes, people that care about us want to protect us from letdowns in life. If we can understand that people project and sometimes it's not even about me, even if it's presented like it is. I've been taught by exceptional people that have shaped me in many ways, but imperfect ideas and people can create long-lasting negative thoughts if you allow them to. I think in 2020, people really understand how emotional health is important. Self-care and positive communication are important. We just need to remind ourselves that we create our own path, and our teachers have been generous with the lessons they share. Accept the good, disregard the hurtful, understand people are human, always be grateful, and stay positive. It's a lot to remember, but it can keep you from some mental health issues our predecessors experienced.
How do you conquer negative talk?
I think that sometimes life is hard, and it's important to feel those emotions and stay in that "place" for a minute, but not for too long. We can't ignore our feelings. I believe in manifesting your own future! Say what you want and put it out into the world! Saying it out loud and believing your own words makes it more of a possibility, and you and others will begin to hold you accountable for pursuing those dreams. Just remember that you have to know that God's plan is better than ours, even if we don't understand it at the time. We have to be pliable and not so rigid that a deviation from your plan is earth-shattering. Have faith and trust that between manifestation and a strong belief in GOD, your future is solid, as long as you do your part.
What is your favorite quote?
What you think. You Create. What you feel. You attract. What you imagine. You become.
So, what's next? Any big plans?
I'm focusing on training and being my best self as I head back to SAB! My web site should be live in few weeks, I've got a film project I'm reading for but not ready to share yet, and an announcement I'll be sharing in the coming week that I think your followers will be interested in, so be sure to follow me on insta (@kali_kleiman)!