A flyer for Nutcracker auditions changed everything for Marissa Laurence. She and her mom saw it in a shoe store while shopping for a new pair of dance shoes and decided to try out. Marissa was only in third grade then and had been dancing for a few years already, but when she went to the North West Florida Ballet studio for auditions, she met Miss Dorothy Lister and knew she’d found where she belonged. That year she made the audition and received the role of a little mouse and an angel in the performance. Marissa’s mom, Kim Laurence, said that nutcracker was “the start of the fever of wanting to perform and wanting to dance.”
Marissa did many other sports and activities aside from ballet, including soccer, softball, volleyball, band, and acting. She was that little girl who wanted to try everything. All activities vied for attention. And commitment. But there came a point when Marissa had to choose between all the activities pulling at her time. Now Marissa is 17 and still dances with Miss Dorothy. At one point North West Florida Ballet moved to Ft. Walton, and Marissa and her mom made the hour-plus drive for practices. In the end she decided to stay back in Pensacola, as Miss Dorothy took over the studio.
Marissa typically dances three days a week and does various performances. Marissa is also in band at Gulf Breeze High School, which is now in indoor competition season. This year, she’s been asked to choreograph the solo dancing role for the visual ensemble. It will be her first competitive dance role.
While Marissa agreed to choreograph a piece for the visual ensemble, she wouldn’t consider choreographing to be her forte. In fact one of the last times she tried choreographing, she broke her foot, which resulted in two to three months of time off. To say that the down time was difficult for her would be a grave understatement. Not only did she have to sit out from dance, she also had to sit out from band, which was just starting season competition. During the long process of rehab and rechecks, Marissa found another way to use her determination: meeting Miss Dorothy’s requirement of coming to class and taking notes even if she couldn’t dance. She waited out the unbearable months of rest for a full recovery because with hopes of a future in dance, she couldn’t put herself at risk for re-injury.
After her injury and recovery, Marissa threw herself back into dance just as vigorously as before. Now her injuries – none large enough to keep her from dancing – usually happen off stage.
“I have this huge blister on my toe right now,” Marissa said, laughing at herself. “And it looks like it’s from practicing en pointe for hours, but it’s actually from kicking a door.”
Similarly, her mom recounted Marissa tripping out of the car or over her own feet when she’s not on stage. When Marissa is on stage, many people have told her that she embodies a special kind of grace and elegance during her ballet performances. She finds this interesting, since she doesn’t feel like she’s “dancing from the heart” the majority of the time. She doesn’t really even get nervous anymore.
“I’m more focused on my technique: tighten my core more, relax my calves,” Marissa said, explaining what she’s thinking while performing.
For Marissa, it’s all about the challenge. She strives for quick mental processing that will enable her to execute combinations as her instructor calls them out. She loves the way Miss Dorothy pushes her. She said she couldn’t have a more discipline-oriented but loving, caring, and encouraging teacher. Marissa considers herself a stubborn person, but the dance floor is the one place where she loves being told what to do. She doesn’t ever see herself becoming a dance teacher or having her own studio because she wants to be on stage. Dancing. Performing. Performing is where she is comfortable.
Marissa spent four weeks this past summer in New York City dancing with the Joffrey Ballet Company. This was not her first dance camp away from home, but she said that she learned so much from the different perspectives of different teachers every single day. Marissa said she fell in love with the city and the studio, and there was a point when she told her mom she wasn’t coming home.
But there is a balance to be found in life, and while some ballet dancers drop out of high school to join a dance company, Marissa wasn’t quite ready to do that. She’s an above average student at Gulf Breeze High School and is even enrolled in some honors classes.
Perhaps Marissa’s tenacity in ballet translates to the rest of her life as well. Dance became a channel for her determination and perseverance.
“We don’t accept failure on the dance floor, so why would we accept it anywhere else,” Marissa said.
She believes she owes much of her character to Miss Dorothy and to the sport of ballet itself. So while dance is a way of life for Marissa, it is also a vehicle for etching out her greater character, not only as a dancer, but also as a student and an individual.
Written by: Hannah Loesch
Photography by: Aaron Holck