Jessica He on the Joys of Being a Professional Ballerina

Visualize your favorite hobby—is it drawing, cooking, running? Now, visualize yourself in your element, whether at your desk, in the kitchen or on the trail, and you are totally consumed in your craft, your brain is so focused on the task at hand that external thoughts are unable to penetrate your intense, but effortless, concentration. Time seems to stop and you are truly living in the moment.

As a child, I found a similar groove in reading. I remember devouring the Harry Potter books and getting in trouble for reading in bed under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. I was obsessed with the calming feeling that reading brought me, and how words on a page could steal me away to a magical world where anything was possible. Ballet became that escape for me as I got older, and I found a calmness in the daily routine and tunnel-vision focus that it requires.

Starting ballet at the age of 5, I never really saw any other way of life and left home at the age of 14 to train pre-professionally in Philadelphia. I developed in my career and danced with Houston Ballet’s second company, and this all led to me being where I am today: a company dancer with Atlanta Ballet. The hard work that goes into this art form has always captured my focus in a way that nothing else has been able to, and my brain and my body began to crave the flow state of mind that it brings me. When my attention is completely attuned to the movements of my body, the strain in my muscles and lungs falls away and I find a feeling of serenity and an out-of-body experience.

Every day, I chase the headspace that ballet gives me, and my genuine appreciation for the art has only grown. The best moments in our lives are when we are challenging ourselves, pushing our limits in an effort to accomplish something that is hard to attain yet worthwhile. It brings me joy and fulfillment to devote my time, energy and focus to the never-ending goals and challenges that come with being a professional ballet dancer. I have come to appreciate that it is truly a gift to be able to step into a studio and leave everything outside for a few hours, to step onstage and become a different character, and to give audiences the immersive experience of seeing us convey stories and emotions through movement and music. Dancing leaves me feeling ecstatic, inspired and fulfilled—and always coming back for more.

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