Patrick McBride

KIRRA MATTHEWS

Patrick McBride
KIRRA MATTHEWS

KIRRA MATTHEWS

Hammonton, NJ

Photos By: Susan Gietka

Tell us about your journey as a ballerina, some of the challenges this has brought and how you have overcome them.

I always loved dancing as a child, and I felt a special connection to ballet early on. My first ballet teacher used to tell me I looked so serious in class. I think she could tell before I could that this was something I would pursue as a career. When I was twelve years old, I too realized that I aspired to be a professional dancer. So, at age 14 I moved away from home to attend a boarding school for ballet dancers, foregoing the traditional high school experience to immerse myself in my craft.

Looking back, I think the challenges I’ve faced in this career mainly developed in high school. In that high-stakes, pressure-filled environment it was very easy to become consumed by this ideal body type I thought I needed achieve for my ballet teachers to like me, and to dwell on the steps I struggled with so intently that they became real fears. Growing up, I was always confident in the studio, but in those four years—though I learned countless invaluable lessons, not just about ballet, but about life, people, and growth, and made some of my best friends—I lost a great deal of my confidence. 

Following my senior year of high school, I joined a big ballet company for the first time, and there I realized that all of my feelings of inadequacy would get me nowhere. I was continually inspired by my colleagues to try my best to improve my dancing, and I knew that in order to do so I needed to improve my mentality first. This was not, and has not been, easy. It was not until I got injured and had to take time off ballet for surgery and recovery that I could truly focus on moving past the mental obstacles holding me back, mostly through a deepening of my faith. Now that I’m dancing professionally again, I cannot say these difficulties have disappeared, but I do have a much better handle on them and I challenge myself daily to own my strengths, accept myself, and be confident.

Tell us more about yourself.

Outside of ballet, my life is full of other interests and passions. I love to sing. I have always had such a passion for music, anything and everything from classic rock to jazz standards. I think this is because growing up, there was always music playing in the house. My brother is a musician and I’m so lucky to be able to sing with him, it’s something that has brought us a lot closer. I always enjoyed singing secretly in the shower but was terrified of anyone ever hearing me. But I remember one evening finally sitting down with my parents and playing my ukulele and singing for them for a while, and they pushed me to start taking voice lessons to learn proper technique. Since meeting my vocal coach each time I perform the nerves become less and less. It may sound strange, but I thank my injury for giving me the opportunity to explore other passions. While I was unable to dance, I began selling my own art work as well. This period of exploration into other passions taught me that my identity is not defined by ballet and ballet is not my entire life; it is simply something that makes my life more beautiful.

When I start to feel negatively about myself, I always try to focus on what I do like instead. Something I’ve always admired about myself is that I try to keep things positive, regardless of how I’m feeling. It’s hard to explain, but at times I feel a responsibility to focus on the good, especially when focusing on the not-so-good might be much easier. I suppose it’s because I find it’s not at all helpful to anyone to cultivate greater negativity, whereas contributing to an overall positive atmosphere fosters connection and motivation. It’s not always easy to do and I don’t always do the best I can, but I guess I feel like I’ve been called to try to spread a little light wherever I go.

As far as the future is concerned, I hope that I will have danced as long as I can, experiencing as much of what this special career has to offer. But in preparation for when my body no longer allows me to dance professionally, I have been studying online through Harvard Extension School, where I’ve been a degree candidate since the Fall of 2018. Eventually I would love to attend graduate school if possible and become perhaps an adolescent psychologist or a child life specialist, of course while teaching ballet wherever I can. It may sound counter-intuitive, but even though trying to juggle my difficult Harvard courses while focusing on ballet can be very taxing and stressful, it’s actually made me feel more at ease within my career, as I already have plans for the future set in place. It takes the pressure off of whatever happens next for me. This is such a blessing, because I can truly appreciate where I am right now in this fleeting career, without constantly looking ahead to what’s next.

Instagram: kirramatthews and roses.n.thorns.shop (for her art)