Olivia Chinn endures the pain, laces up her pointe shoes

Miramonte High sophomore Olivia Chinn winces, her feet still sore and blistered from a tough session at the studio the night before. But, after a busy day at school and a hectic commute to San Francisco, yet another challenging ballet class awaits her tonight. Nevertheless, she laces up her pointe shoes, determined to push through the pain and improve her technique even more.

Chinn has taken ballet classes for 14 years, starting when she was just two years old. Although it began as a hobby, she fell deeply in love with ballet as she progressed through years of training. 

“In 2018, I started to get serious about ballet during a summer program at my current studio, City Ballet School, in San Francisco. During the program, my technique really improved, and I wanted to see that same growth even after summer ended, so I decided to stay for the year-round program,” Chinn said. 

The City Ballet School program is extremely competitive: only 11 girls – including Chinn – ranging from 14 to 18 years old were chosen for the “Professional Division,” the highest level at City Ballet School. This program prepares the dancers for a future career as a professional ballerina.

The classes run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, so Chinn leaves school at lunchtime for the commute to San Francisco. To make up for the school she misses, she takes periods six and seven online through the independent study program, allowing her to self-pace the work and maintain a healthy balance between school and ballet. 

In addition to the five-hour ballet classes every weekday, she dances from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday, totaling 37 hours of ballet every week – more than the 33 hours a typical student with seven periods spends at school weekly. 

“Olivia has a lot of pressure on her because of her commitment to ballet and to doing well in school. But her love of ballet, along with her drive, keeps her happy and motivated,” Chinn’s mom, Julie Chinn, said.

During the 37 hours of classes, dancers practice every aspect of ballet through different classes: ballet technique; partnering; character classes, where they learn about different ballet styles; variation classes, in which they learn short dances; and Nutcracker rehearsals, which started in early October. 

“I don’t have a favorite class because every class is unique, and I learn so much from each one,” Chinn said.

Chinn’s instructors already recognize her hard work and commitment. In December at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, she was slated to perform in her studio’s two productions of The Nutcracker in multiple roles. Chinn will dance as a mirliton, a Russian, and most impressively, as Clara, the central character of the ballet. Out of the entire studio of about 130 dancers, only two were chosen for Clara – one for each performance – and Chinn will play the coveted role. There was no official audition to decide the parts. Instead, the teachers assigned roles based on the students’ attitude and behavior in class.

Hidden beneath the elegance and beautiful costumes, ballet is a grueling art form that requires immense physical strength, a disciplined mind, and complete dedication. The competitiveness of ballet requires the support of fellow dancers and family. 

“Ballet is extremely difficult, and I couldn’t imagine not having Olivia by my side. She helps me through my journey every day, and I trust her with my life,” 14-year-old City Ballet dancer Kyra Davey, Chinn’s close friend, said.

Last year, with the ongoing pandemic, ballet required even more perseverance than usual. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I worried that I wasn’t going to improve by dancing over Zoom, but as we started online classes, I realized that I could gain a lot with the right mindset. Although it was difficult to be isolated from my teachers and peers, ballet became my silver lining and gave me more appreciation for in-person training,” Chinn said.

In the future, Chinn hopes to dance for a prestigious company, such as the American Ballet Theatre in New York or the Royal Ballet in London. Until then, she continues to work hard and do whatever it takes to succeed. “There are many sacrifices that I have to make, such as missing a football game or school dance, but I don’t mind because I get to pursue what I love every day,” Chinn said.

Chinn gingerly tugs off her pointe shoes, careful not to irritate her bleeding feet any further. Reaching for her toes, she feels the stretch through the back of her legs, a relief after her hectic day. Despite the challenges of ballet, Chinn is prepared to do everything she can to make her dreams come true.