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Jaslyn Kwan, 12 (Palo Alto, CA)

The Sky's the Limit

Jaslyn Kwan, 12

Goodbye San Francisco, hello Tampa! Ever since COVID-19 started, I had been stuck at home along with everyone else. Being able to finally travel to places other than the local grocery store gave me a feeling of freedom. I was heading off to compete in the United States (US) Finals for the prestigious ballet competition, Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP).

Excited, I made a long packing list as soon as I got the invitation and started gathering items daily - casual tops and leggings, toothbrush, hair accessories, shoes, makeup, a dress for the award ceremony, etc. Not until the day of departure did I realize that I still hadn't packed everything! I ended up rushing to finish ten minutes before we left for the airport. I was throwing everything into my bright yellow suitcase, triple-checking my long checklist, wondering why I didn’t do this earlier, and before we knew it, we were off. When we boarded onto the plane, it dawned on me how I would be staring at the back of a seat during the whole flight, unable to move left or right, the whole time getting squished. Gazing at my phone for what seemed like hours, bored out of my mind, I came to wonder why time crawled so slowly. After a few dreadful hours, I finally got comfortable in my seat. Looking out the window, the sky was filled with fluffy clouds - they looked as if they were meant to be danced on. The golden sun was about to set, colorful brush strokes painted across the sky - at last, everything was perfect.

I felt so refreshed when I stood up for the first time in 5 hours. Thrilled to see my friends, I jumped into a taxi as fast as I could - hotel, here I come! After meeting up with my friends in the hotel lobby, my mom and I went to the 6th floor. The second we stepped foot into our room, we looked around only to see that the ground was dirty, the room was smaller than expected, and a COCKROACH was on my bed! Having a phobia of bugs, I screamed so loud that I didn’t even hear my mom shushing me. I woke up from my first night only to feel an annoying itch on my thumb. That’s when I saw 3 huge bright red bug bites on the bottom of my thumb! I hated this hotel more than ever and just wanted to get out as fast as possible. Tiptoeing around the dirty floor, I got ready for my dance, and fled the room for a warm-up class. At the end, I came to realize that my mom had already packed up all our belongings and moved to another hotel! When I saw our new room for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything about it was pristine: the furniture was clean as a whistle, the carpet nicely vacuumed, the mattress as white as snow, and no dust anywhere. I felt like the most fortunate girl in the world.

The day of competitions and master classes finally arrived.

Jaslyn at the YAGP Finals

After a light breakfast, focused and determined, I started intensely stretching and conditioning for the upcoming events. In the class, I glanced around and saw so many gifted girls from all around the US in the room. I have to work even harder than these girls to make an impression, I thought. Squeezing my muscles, I did the first plié (bending my knees) as the professional photographer came up to me, attempting to find the right angle for a photo. Looking straight and smiling, I tried my best to hold in my excitement. I was also hoping that the one judge in the room could see me and notice how hard I was working. After a long but exhilarating class, I was pumped to go on stage - the big moment.

Backstage, there were several heavy black curtains hung from the ceiling, a little table with a lonely lamp, and a tall slender woman in all black - black shirt, pants, microphone, and clipboard. I figured she was the stage manager. I gave her my number for my dance, and off I went for Open Stage, a time to practice on the real stage. Marking my grande jeté (a split jump), I was surrounded by all these talented girls rehearsing quadruple pirouettes, high arabesques, and such crazy jumps. I couldn’t help but think, “What if I do bad? What if I fall?” I didn’t know what to expect - anything could happen. Even though you may not get the best placement, it only matters that you tried your best, I thought, trying to reassure myself.

Jaslyn performing

Soon enough, it was time to perform. Dressed in my rhinestone-embellished all white tutu with a cream scarf covering my arms, I laced my pointe shoes and immersed myself into a shadow - the character of my variation, La Bayadere. As I danced, I felt like I was flying on the clouds I saw earlier on the plane. It was like nothing could stop me - not even a little stumble. Gliding down the last diagonal of relevés (rising onto pointe), I was so excited and relieved to hit my last pose. Bowing to the audience’s applause felt like a weight had just been lifted off my shoulders.

Then came the most intense part of this experience; it was time to see if I made it into the final round of competitions. I sat on the bed at 10pm into the night, exhausted, staring at my mom’s computer screen, butterflies flying in my stomach. The anticipation was killing me. All sorts of emotions kicked in as the final scores were about to come out. Soon, however, I couldn’t wait any longer and dozed off on my mom’s shoulder. That night, I dreamt about the excitement of seeing my number flashing in bright yellow ink along with 34 other winning finalists. The second I opened my eyes the next morning, I rushed over to my mom and asked hopefully, “Did my number get chosen to the final round?” She looked me in the eyes and told me the devastating news - I didn’t make it. Agonizing sadness overwhelmed me as I believed that I had danced the best I could. Pulling myself together with a deep breath, I knew not to mope over this; I still achieved an amazing accomplishment - I had performed better than ever before.

Even though I didn’t exactly get the best score, I’m still very grateful that I got this opportunity to not only dance, but also meet new friends and train with different perspectives. Those insanely dedicated and hard-working girls from all around the US have inspired me so much, and I was thrilled to share the same stage with them. From this trip, the one lesson that stays with me the most is that it’s not all about winning. It definitely feels amazing to be at the top, but as William Whewell said, “Every failure is a step to success." As long as we believe in ourselves and continue to work hard toward our goals and dreams, our horizons will expand to fit all that is possible - the sky's the limit.


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