This past July, with nerves, excitement, and a U-Haul filled with her life’s possessions from four years spent in Kalamazoo, Cecily Shives moved across the country to begin her career as a professional ballerina. Unfortunately, however, this new life chapter did not start off on the right foot.
Just three weeks before her contract was set to commence with Ballet San Antonio, Cecily slipped and fell in rehearsal, breaking the fifth metatarsal in her foot. With an injury infamously known as the “dancer’s break,” Cecily was forced off the dance floor and into a boot before her professional career even started. The pain and frustration of being unable to dance, combined with the inevitable anxiety of coming into a new environment, left Cecily devastated.
“I was an absolute disaster,” Cecily recalls of her regrettable start. “I’m the new kid. I’m the boss’s daughter. And now, I’m not even able to dance.”
But rather than letting this setback defeat her, Cecily persisted, reinforcing a theme that has been present throughout her life-long dance journey:
“Your dance career will take you to places that you can’t plan for,” Cecily says. “You have to be open to it.”
Just as Cecily shut down the digs of peers who thought ballet was “stupid” when she was a young artist, Cecily rejected her inner doubts and instead focused on healing. In the same way that Cecily embraced her parents’ gentle nudge back into the dance world as she considered her college options, she accepted her injury as an opportunity to grow.
“There’s a rhyme and reason for everything…I learned so much watching the other dancers,” Cecily says of her time sidelined with her injury. “It’s inspiring to work with people who have been working as professionals for four, five, six, even ten years. I watch them and they’re just absolutely fearless.”
Additionally, the heartbreak she felt when she was unable to dance alongside her fellow company members and the satisfaction she experienced when she was back on her feet again further confirmed that everything in her winding dance journey has happened for a reason.
“I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Cecily proudly asserts. “The people I work with are extraordinary. I love working with creative, artistic people eight hours a day, five days a week or more.”
Three weeks after her fall, Cecily started marking in the studio. Then, two weeks after that, she was jumping and turning. And eight weeks into her contract with Ballet San Antonio, she was on pointe once again. She even performed in Ballet San Antonio’s production of Giselle in October, her debut as a professional ballerina. While she continues to work towards rebuilding her foot strength through ongoing exercises, Cecily can happily say that she’s dancing pain-free.
Earlier this month, the joy and magic of dance was further awakened for Cecily, as she danced the role of “Clara” in The Nutcracker. As someone who performed in The Nutcracker countless times as a child, this opportunity has been a full-circle experience for Cecily.
“I got to interact with the kids, which is the most important part of the nutcracker,” Cecily says. “I was a kid in Nutcracker. I was a doll, I loved being a mouse, I was a soldier, a tree angel and a polichinelle. I’ve done all the roles. It’s amazing to finally give back and carry the ballet.”
In terms of working under the direction of her dad, Willy Shives, Cecily says she’s just another company member. And for that, she’s grateful.
“He’s great to work for in the studio. But the way he works with me is no different from the way he works with everybody else.”
When asked what’s next in her career journey, Cecily’s answer does not surprise: she plans to simply roll with the punches.
“I’ll plan to dance for as long as my body lets me,” Cecily says. “I love what I’m doing and I love the opportunities I’ve gotten. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
This installment concludes "The Cecily Shives Story," a three-part blog series detailing the many turns in the dance journey of recent WMU Department of Dance alumna Cecily Shives. Read the first and second installments of the series for a complete look at Cecily's story.
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