When I watch Sara Mearns dance, it’s easy to assume that this elegant woman must have the ideal life. After I did some research on her career though, I realized that even though this dancer seemed “perfect” in my eyes, it didn’t mean that she hadn’t experienced hardships or faced critics of her own. Mearns worked her whole life to become a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, and while she is the most exquisite dancer, it’s her perseverance in moments of adversity that has made her one to watch in the dance world.
Mearns began her training when she was 3-years-old at Calvert-Brodie School of Dance in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. From there she trained at Dance Place, the School of North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina and the South Carolina Governor’s School of Arts & Humanities in Greenville before entering the School of American Ballet (SAB) sab.org, the official school of New York City Ballet, in 2001. In 2003, she became an apprentice with the New York City Ballet (www.nycballet.com) until she officially joined the company in 2004 as a member of the corps de ballet. Mearns was promoted to soloist in March 2006, and became principal dancer in 2008. Her extensive training led her to perform featured roles in beloved Balanchine ballets such as Symphony in C, Jewels (Emeralds & Diamonds), Seranade, Mozartiana and Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Since 2006, Mearns has performed the role of Swan Queen in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake to rave reviews. Watch this video as Sara Mearns and Ashley Bouder take viewers behind the scenes of their rehearsal process to play the Swan Queen: https://youtu.be/v19PaQ6XF48
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While Mearns’ career may seem like a Cinderella story to someone on the outside, let me give you a little insight into what she has had to face since making it in the dance world. First, the list of injuries that this dancer endured over her career would seem daunting to anyone. She has had two severe muscular back injuries (one which kept her out of dancing for eight months), sprained ankles, strains in her calves, hamstrings and hips, cortisone shots in her foot, a dropped metatarsal resulting in a stone bruise, and multiple neck injuries. While this is enough to keep anyone down, Mearns thinks of injuries in a different light. During an interview with blogger Catherine Baggs, Mearns said, “Injuries are a gift. They make you reset and take a breath. You become stronger and a more well-rounded dancer.”
Today, Mearns is without a doubt one of the most talked about ballerinas of her time, but with these conversations often come with critics of her work. Ballet fanatics argue about Mearns’ body type, interpretations, and stage personality, although most have not done the research to know what Mearns overcomes daily just to be able to dance. She has an asymmetrical body complete with a scoliosis curve and a twist in her spine. This causes her body to stay tighter and more muscle-bound than your average dancer. People with scoliosis must work twice as hard to keep their muscles loose and their bodies in prime dancing condition.
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Outside of her stage career, Mearns is committed to exposing young people to the magic of ballet. She frequently speaks at schools and is also an advocate for injury prevention and the need for alternative therapy options for professional dancers. Additionally, she is an ambassador to the Dizzy Feet
Foundation (dizzyfeetfoundation.org), founded by Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman, whose mission is to improve and increase access to dance education in the United States through grants which support programs serving low-income populations and educational institutions working with talented individuals.
Overall, learning more about Mearns has made me remember how important it is to take care of my own body. As someone with scoliosis myself, stretching and strength training remain a part of my weekly routine, just like Mearns. “Take care of your body. Don’t overdo or exhaust your body. Most of the time, injuries happen when you are past the point of strength,” said Mearns. Even the most fit ballerinas experience hardships not only with their bodies, but with people’s perceptions of their bodies. In Mearns’ case though, she’s used her injuries and critics as fuel to excel in an industry that she was born to dance in. She’s persevered in times when no one would have blamed her if she hung up her pointe shoes, and for that, she’s an inspiration.