When I was 14 years old, I placed in Youth America Grand Prix's final round and was offered a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School's summer intensive. As overjoyed as I was, I couldn't help but realize just how hard I'd had to fight to get to this point. Despite the years of tears, bullies and constant exclusion that I'd faced, I hadn't given up—and it was paying off.
Frenette at age 14, competing in YAGP
VAM Productions, Courtesy Frenette
I started dancing at 3, following in the footsteps of my older sister Emma. By the time I left for my first summer at the Royal Ballet School, both ballet and bullying had been a part of my life for 11 years. Today, I am in the middle of my seventh season with American Ballet Theatre. Looking back on my own experiences, I want to offer guidance to my fellow danseurs, because I know your struggle. I know how hard it is to be excluded from birthday parties, or to come home from school with a black eye. I know what it's like to keep dancing in the face of adversity.
Frenette (third from left) with Stephanie Williams in ABT's Swan Lake
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT
No matter how many times my family tried to stop the hostility I faced at school, no number of meetings with principals could change the toxic culture I was subjected to. Eventually, I enrolled in an online high school. Many of my bullies' parents supported their children's hatred towards me, and it was through this experience that I learned not everyone is going to like you.
Communication is key. Be it your parents, close friends, ballet instructors or school teachers, these people can help and protect you if you let them know what's going on. Being a victim of bullying or discrimination can take a serious toll on the mind and body, but expressing how it affects you is the first step in reclaiming your well-being and happiness.
6-year-old Frenette after a Royal Academy of Dance exam
Kimber Frenette, Courtesy Frenette
When I was in the thick of dodging bullies, I started dreading ballet class. My inspiration to dance was dwindling, and I was constantly exhausted. One day after class at the Goh Ballet Academy, Alex Wong (yes, that Alex Wong, dance superstar), who was an older student and a mentor to me, noticed that my usual positive energy wasn't the same and pulled me aside. After I shared what was going on, he gave me some advice that has stuck with me every day since: "Keep dancing, no matter what."
For the past five summers, I have had the privilege of teaching at Boys Ballet Summer Intensive in Cary, North Carolina. I co-founded the program with my mother, Kimber Frenette, and International Ballet Academy director Christina Fannéy. Last summer, over 80 students ages 12 to 19 joined us for two incredible weeks. Some of the boys are victims of extreme prejudice and exclusion, much like I was. My goal is to show them that by dancing through their hardships, they can build character that will assist them in overcoming their naysayers, and help them become more confident no matter what path they choose to follow.
Frenette (right) with Connor Holloway in Alexei Ratmansky's The Seasons
Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT
Find a Hobby
Ballet has a way of enveloping our lives. While my happiness was in constant flux throughout my childhood, my outside hobbies were crucial and helped fuel my passion for dance. I couldn't wait to get home to my Legos, GameCube and sketchbook. I would dream up comics about Spider-Man rescuing me from my classroom to take me to New York City to fight bad guys. Though my ballet school was always a safe haven, I had to find ways to stay afloat in the parts of my life that did not include dance. Today I continue to rely on creative outlets like drawing, photography and playing video games with friends online to keep me inspired.
At age 15, dancing Giselle with Thalia Crymble
David Cooper, Courtesy Frenette
It Gets Better
Growing up, the more I talked about ballet at school, the fewer friends I had. Pretty soon I was picked last for sports teams and was the only one not getting a valentine. On my 9th birthday, only one girl stood up to sing "Happy Birthday" to me while the rest of the class sat silent. If my experiences sound familiar to you, I want you to know that things get better.
When I was 17, I moved to New York City to attend the School of American Ballet. This freethinking city and classroom full of danseurs was exactly what I needed. I made long-standing friendships at SAB, and later at ABT, that I did not think were possible when I was stuck in the trenches of my middle school years. If you are being bullied or excluded, I encourage you to remain hopeful. Continue to pursue dance, surround yourself with like-minded people who understand your commitment to the arts, and leave those bullies behind.