A W A 

 Paris | 2017

A W A 

City  Paris
Age  19
Love life  Single
Profession — Dancer at Ballet de L’Opéra
Years in Paris 10
Location — Le Comptoir Géneral and Canal St Martin

 

T H E  P A R I S  S T O R I E S

‘I WAS NINE WHEN

I WENT TO PARIS

TO BECOME

A DANCER’

  • What makes you really happy?
    “Spending time with the people I love. It’s good to know that my friends and family are supporting me, because I have a tough job with a lot of pressure. The ballet is really strict with a lot of rules and a firm dress code. Every day I have to prove that I belong there. It can be hard when you do everything that’s in your power, but the feedback isn’t positive. Then you have to work and work and work.”
  • What is your best personality trait?
    “My positivity. I think I am – or at least try to be – positive in every situation. I always try to get the best out of a difficult situation instead of being negative about it. My friends say that they admire that in me. Whenever I feel sad or depressed about my work, I tell myself that I have the chance to live from my passion and that I just have to keep my head above the water and continue. When I get negative feedback, I think: ok, this hurts, but I am going to use this to improve myself. It’s easier this way, it makes me struggle less. When you can’t handle negative feedback, you push yourself in the wrong direction. But it is hard that you never know what’s going to happen to you, if you will get to a higher level.”
  • What is your biggest struggle in life?
    “I am a really timid person and sometimes I struggle to open myself up to people or joke around with them. I want to give more of myself, but I am too shy to do it. I want to accept who I am, but sometimes I get annoyed that I don’t have the confidence to participate in a conversation. My shyness started because I had a lot of problems with acne.  It made me really insecure. I didn’t want to be looked at, and I would hide my face behind my hair. I am one hundred percent sure that I would have been less shy if I didn’t have acne. But the acne is getting better and so is my shyness. I just don’t care anymore.”
  • What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
    “That I went to Paris when I was a little girl. I was just doing my own thing in my own little town and I didn’t know anything about the ballet in Paris. But my teacher said that I should try to get admitted to the dance school there. Why not, I thought, and I just went. That was the biggest thing I did in my life, because it made me who I am right now. I am only nineteen years old I already know what my passion is. I feel really grateful that I found this path to follow. But when I came to Paris as a nine year old, it was just about having lots of fun. So much fun that I could handle only seeing my parents on the weekends. But when I became a teenager, I got the feeling that I really missed something by not growing up with my parents. I missed the parties and other teenage experiences. But whenever I danced, I thought: no, I am not quitting. Things got better when I told myself if I continue to work like this, I can later live from my passion.”

  • What do you regret in life?
    “My mom is born and raised in Mali and came to France when she married my dad. When I was little, I used to join her on her visits to my grandparents and cousins in Mali. I regret that I don’t have the time or the money to see them anymore. It makes me sad to be so far away from them. I regret that I am enjoying the French part from my father more than the African part from my mother. My brother and I just weren’t that interested in her culture when we were young. We wanted to be like the people that surrounded us. But a couple of years ago I started to miss that part of my life. It’s like there are two cultures in me, and I only know and live one. It’s also hard for my mother. It makes her sad that my brother and I are European in our personalities and the way we live. I would like to share the African part with her, but I don’t speak Bambara, one of the languages from Mali, and I am not a Muslim like her.”
  • What is your biggest sorrow in life?
    “That I love ballet, but that I am not sure anymore if I really love it that much. At school they said that I have a lot of potential and I can be a really great dancer, but I don’t know if classical ballet is really a fit for me. I love modern and contemporary dance so much more. At the moment I am dancing in a modern piece, and I feel that I really blossom in it. But they can’t always let me dance in the modern ballets, everyone gets the same education.”
  • What has really hurt you in the past?
    “Betrayal. I once was really close to someone, and she decided that I wasn’t good enough anymore. She was my best friend. We had a fight about nothing. It was really childish, but it still hurts. Hearing a person you really love say bad things about you… that’s hard. Losing someone’s trust hurts me the most.”
  • What advice would you give other women in Europe?
    “Don’t let anyone tell you who you have to be or what you have to do. And don’t listen to people who are not ok with what you do. When I was young, I always wanted to be dressed like the other girls, now I realize it doesn’t really matter. It’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be yourself. I don’t try to fit in anymore. What matters is who we are on the inside.”
  • What is your biggest dream or your ultimate goal in life?
    “I have a lot of goals: traveling, having kids and being a good dancer with a good career. I know it’s hard to do everything, so my ultimate goal would be asking myself the right questions at the right moment. So that when the time comes, I make the right decision and I don’t have any regrets later.”
  • What does Paris mean to you?
    “I love it, I really do. It’s my home now. It makes me so happy to have fun in this amazing city. Every day I appreciate the city more. It keeps surprising me: every area has its own people, type of restaurants and decor. Within a twenty minute walk you experience a completely different atmosphere. There are so many different museums, and there are so many beautiful places. I can’t get used to it. Every time I think: wow, how is this possible! I work in Opéra Garnier and that building is also stunning. But I have to admit that Paris is not as friendly and welcoming as other European cities. No one is smiling on the subway, everyone is focused on themselves and not paying any attention to others. When I went to Spain, it felt like everyone was my friend, because everyone talked to me on the streets. Do I consider myself a real Parisienne? I think the real Parisienne exists, but in a superficial way. It’s about appearance. They are really chic, always well-dressed, they go to nice places and they are having a glass of wine on a terrace. It’s kind of cliché. I didn’t do a lot of research on this, but this is how I imagine the typical Parisienne. I guess I am one.”

Photos by Hélène Koch

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