Flashback To My First Company Photos

There we all stood, costumes on, hair up, lips painted red. Our bodies already getting cold in the small photo studio, we waited for the photographer to readjust his lights. Again.
It was all too familiar to me. I’d been through this before, back when I was first training to become a professional ballet dancer at the Alexandra School of Ballet in St. Louis, Missouri. Each year, Miss A. would make us stand in perfect rows in our uniforms and smile for the camera. And each year, she would scold me for smiling too big. What she didn’t understand was that this was my natural smile. I have big teeth and a wide smile, so unless I had had years of modeling training (which I didn’t) I could only smile one way. She’d tell me to stop smiling so much: I’d then try to minimize my smile, to which she’d retort “now you look uncomfortable. Just SMILE, Jennifer!” And then she’d laugh at me, and all the other dancers would snigger in derision. At least, that’s how it felt to me. I hated it. I hated taking photos as a result of it. I’d hide my smile, and years later I’d invest thousands of dollars in braces to remedy the situation. Funny enough, I became a model and eventually learned how to best present my smile for still photos.
Cut to yesterday, where our story first began, at the photo studio in San Pedro with South Bay Ballet. The director yells out “Georgia, you need to smile bigger!” But I know better. I know what my smile looks like from ALL ANGLES. I’ll be damned if I go down looking like a hee-haw fat-faced buck-toothed… yeah. The fears from my childhood experiences have apparently lingered. I broadened my smile A BIT. It worked. I survived one more ballet photoshoot. I try to remember that the dance world is different from the modeling world – they are not aware of how to coax a good facial look out of their subjects – all they care about is pointed feet, long necks, and big smiles – but not TOO big, mind you.
Then I realized that the other dancers with me were probably worried about their own insecurities. The three dancers sitting next to me in the next photo gave me the “go to hell with your beautiful arched feet” look as we got into position. I wanted to tell them that these feet didn’t just happen, that I obsess over them every day, their arch, the line of the point, the angle at which they are being seen onstage… but so what? It doesn’t matter that they have things they do better than I – all that matters is that in that moment, I had the perceived advantage in the photo. Ten bucks says their smiles are bigger than mine.
I laughed inside as we finished the shoot, and decided to let the whole thing go.
Some things never change.

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