This is day 11 of 12 collections of my favorite work in 2015. Today, I’m dedicating this post entirely to my story on a young ballet dancer from Bowdoinham named Caroline Gill. She and her family were gracious in letting me in on part of their lives. I am still very grateful. This story first appeared on July 31.
Toe to toe
BOWDOINHAM, Maine — It’s suppertime. Caroline Gill, 15, goes to the refrigerator and opens the freezer door.
She barely glances at the letter on the front, held in place with a pickle-shaped magnet. It says she got into the prestigious summer course at the School of American Ballet in New York City. Beside the letter is photo of two elegant dancers in full costume.
Reaching into the freezer, she grabs two ice trays and carries them to the sink. She unceremoniously dumps them into a plastic bucket of water and lugs the whole thing into the living room. Plopping down on the couch, she puts the bucket on the floor and plunges both feet in the water, among the floating cubes. With a sigh, she starts scrolling through her smartphone. After the ice come the stretches.
Most days, Gill leaves school early to squeeze in a private ballet lesson before her regular group session. Then, she often stays and helps teach the younger dancers in a third class.
“Then I do my homework, eat, go to bed and do it again the next day,” she said.
It’s not easy, but she experiences “moments of clarity” when she’s dancing.
“I just feel comfortable,” she said. “Like this is what I’m meant to do.”
Gill lives on a farm with her parents and brother and has been studying ballet since she was 5 years old. She dances 15 to 18 hours per week and even convinced her parents to homeschool her for a year so she could dance more.
Now, all her hard work has paid off.
She is spending five weeks in New York this summer at the School of American Ballet, founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. She is one of 200 students accepted nationwide. It could be her entrance to the school full time.
“I would like to be a professional ballet dancer,” Gill said. “That’s the goal.”
Gill has been guided to this point by her teacher, Elizabeth Drucker Treadwell, at The Ballet School in Topsham. Treadwell runs the small but well-respected school out of a converted barn behind her house.
Treadwell knows where Gill is coming from. She also is from Bowdoinham, went to the SAB’s summer program in 1987 at age 12 and attended full time starting as a sophomore in high school. Treadwell went on to dance professionally with the New York City Ballet before returning to Maine to teach.
“It’s exciting for me to think she is going to have the same teachers and some of the same (dance) combinations that I had,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell also remembers what it was like to sacrifice nearly all her time at the feet of her ballet ambitions. She knows there are things she missed as a teenager but, looking back, she has no regrets.
“It’s so hard some days,” Treadwell said. “Some days it’s very hard to work so much, and you see other people not doing that.”
Gill already agrees.
“I couldn’t really just give up because I can see where I could be,” she said. “I see how amazing I could be. I want to get to a place that’s really great.”
While working hard in New York this summer, Gill knows she’s following a set of steps previously danced by her mentor.
“Elizabeth sort of lived my dream — a girl from a small town who went to SAB and danced with the New York City Ballet,” Caroline said. “She is who I aspire to be like.”