Thursday, April 16, 2015
16-year-old LDS ballerina shares her talents, testimony through dancing
(by Maddie Swensen deseretnews.com 4-15-15)
Sixteen-year-old ballerina Gisele Bethea of Mesa, Arizona, has received numerous awards, traveled the world to perform and been asked to join the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company.
But her talent is not the only thing that sets Bethea apart in the world of ballet. She belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she is fearless about sharing her beliefs.
“She’s never been afraid to share or to tell people that she loves Heavenly Father,” said Bethea's mother, Heidi Bethea. “She is always sharing things like that with her friends, even when she was really small.”
Gisele Bethea was about 4 years old when she started dancing around the house. Her mother noticed and took her to a local dance studio where Bethea began taking recreational dance classes.
Around the time Bethea turned 8 years old, her dance teacher recognized her talent as a ballerina and suggested her parents send her to Russia to train with some of the best ballet teachers in the world.
That wasn't really an option for the Bethea family, but the young ballerina did begin training with her teacher. When she turned 12, Bethea entered the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has been there ever since.
Being watched by the world is a lot of pressure for a 16-year-old girl.
“I need to make sure I’m up to those standards at all times. People are watching me,” Bethea said.
“The best way for me to deal with that is to make sure that I’m humble.”
Bethea said that if she forgets that her family, friends and teachers are there for her, the stress gets too hard to handle. By staying humble, she is always aware of the support she has surrounding her.
“It is not normal family life for us," Heidi Bethea said. "But because Gisele is who she is and because we believe there is a purpose for all of this and that we can play a part in the purpose, it makes it really helpful."
Heidi Bethea said decisions regarding her daughter’s training are family matters. When deciding which competitions Bethea will travel to, the family always sits down and decides together what they can all handle.
“We just feel so strongly that we have to stay close to the Spirit all the time,” Heidi Bethea said. “I feel like living close enough to the Spirit is key. The other key thing that helps us the most in making decisions is making the gospel a priority.”
Despite her long days training, Gisele Bethea said, she attends early morning seminary and never goes to bed without reading her scriptures. Both Bethea and her mother said that seminary and scriptures are not optional; the gospel always comes first.
As a ballerina, Bethea has to pay special attention to her costumes. She has made her stance on modesty clear, and her teachers know exactly what she will or will not wear.
“I’m not willing to show my stomach because it is mine,” Bethea said. “It’s not anybody else’s; it’s mine.”
Modesty during practice is also important to Bethea, particularly when traveling to and from the studio. Her standards and habits have become segues into sharing more of her beliefs with her peers, she said.
Living her standards isn’t the only way Bethea has been able to share her beliefs.
When competing, she often meets people who don’t want anything to do with the people they are competing against. But Bethea sees it differently.
“I want to know my competitors. I want them to know that they are loved, and that they have my support and that I am rooting for them,” she said. “As I do that, I build a friend relationship with them and I’m able to ask them about their personal lives and ask them about their beliefs in God.”
Following a recent international competition, Bethea was in an airport speaking with her translator, who told her she looked like a princess when she danced.
“I said that it helps to know that I’m a daughter of God and that I really am a princess,” Bethea said.
Bethea then asked her translator if she believed in God, to which the translator replied that she did. In a quick conversation before Bethea boarded the plane, she shared her personal witness of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
“That’s why I love to dance,” Bethea said. “Because when I dance, I am able to share the love of God.”