My name is Ana Chen, I live in Bellevue, Washington, and I dance at Pacific Northwest Ballet, or PNB. Having toured from Spoleto, Italy, to New York City Center, PNB features an entourage of renowned dancers such as Noelani Pantastico and Rachel Foster and has achieved worldwide acclaim, its reputation only bolstered by its two fantastic teaching faculties—one located in Bellevue, known as the Francia Russell Center, and the other in the heart of Seattle, titled the Phelps Center.
Unfortunately, Sound Transit, the light rail company which arranges transportation through the King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, is planning to tear down the Francia Russell Center, also known as the Eastside/Bellevue Center, for a new operation. Many citizens of Bellevue and Seattle have signed a petition on change.org at https://www.change.org/p/save-your-ballet-school-save-your-ballet-school or have written letters to Sound Transit to save an invaluable cultural connection between Bellevue and the arts. Click on the petition to sign it or read the letter below I myself have written for PNB’s conservation.
Dear Sound Transit Board of Directors,
My name is Ana Chen and I dance at the PNB Eastside Center as a Level V. I spend about five days (fourteen hours) per week at the studio, and another two outside it stretching and practicing on my own.
I'm sure you've seen the faculty, whether in person or through a picture. There is a strikingly vibrant red wall on the right-hand side, with a sign bearing the words "Main Street" tacked right under the staircase leading upstairs.
I've walked past the sign for the past ten years, and only now do I realize why it caught and still catches my eye whenever I see it.
It's because the sign really does mark a "Main Street"--the Main Street of my life. Everything I do revolves around ballet--from what I eat to how I think. Ballet coaxes out the most stubborn parts of my mind, heart, and body. It gives me something to look forwards to, a reason to smile, and a reminder why life is so beautiful every day. Even if my toes scream from blisters, bunions, and ingrown toenails, even if I have to restrict what I eat and come home every day with hair gel in my hair at nine with boatloads of homework left to do, I wouldn't give up ballet for the world.
Let me tell you why I even started dancing. My mom put me into ballet ten years ago. I don't even have memories of my first ballet classes--only of pink tulle and peach-colored slippers across the shiny gray floors. I never realized how blessed I was to be dancing until I heard my mom's story--she was born as the second of five siblings to a poor family in China. Despite my mother's love for ballet, she was forced to help her family each and every day, sleeping at one in the morning and waking up at four the next day. She longed for an opportunity to dance--just a day in the studio, or a chance to try on a pair of pointe shoes...alas, it just never came.
Today, I honor both my mother's love and my own for ballet by giving both my heart and soul to this art. My love for ballet is just as fiery as Kitri from Don Quixote, just as strong as Odette's and Siegfried's love for each other in Swan Lake. It is true that ballet is both emotionally and physically tolling, and expensive, too. I have shed more tears and have come closer to breaking with ballet than with anything else. And yet I still dance.
Because, at the end of the day, ballet is still my Main Street. And I'm absolutely sure that each dancer in my class of 20 Level Fives, every dancer in the levels both lower and higher than mine, and all the dancers from Mongolia to Colorado will say exactly the same.
Please, save PNB's Eastside Center. Oh, I can always "find another school." Where? You can throw the names of other studios at me--I swear to God, PNB is not the same. From the wonderful, inspiring teachers to the amazing community it fosters to the large, beautiful studios, it is so much more than just another ballet school, or, heavens forbid, just another "business."
I understand the need for a better transportation system--we all do. I understand that you have to pay other companies. But should better transportation really come at the cost of a home and school for 250+ children, many of whom wish to become ballerinas through PNB?
No, PNB is not just a business. It is my second home and my Main Street, and often times the only reason I have to smile on seemingly hopeless days. PNB made me who I am.
And I will stand by it.