Ballerina/artist Sam Sole steps out and steps up in Chattanooga
Traditional theories on the brain postulate that creativity is focused in the right hemisphere of the brain, but recent studies by a group of Belgian scientists have yielded different results. Their findings indicate that creatives have increased neural tissue in the fine motor performance and procedural memory areas of the brain, which are located in both the right and left hemispheres. Though this suggests that talent is hereditary, it was stated by the researchers that it is also a result of experience—like a muscle that one is born with that becomes stronger with exercise.
Perhaps this is the explanation for Chattanooga Ballet Company’s instructor and dancer Sam Sole’s multi-faceted creative skills. In addition to her work as a ballerina, she is also a fine artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and musician—and these abilities have been with her since childhood.
Her mother noticed Sam’s dancing ability during a production of The Nutcracker when she was two years old, when she started dancing in the aisle. She immediately enrolled her in ballet classes, and Sam has been in love with dancing ever since. When she was five, Sam wrote “I’m going to be a ballerina, and I’m also going to be an artist.” That’s exactly what she’s doing now.
Growing up in Tallahassee, she succeeded in art classes from kindergarten on, and was an active artist at home as well. She danced with a competitive studio from age seven to fifteen before meeting the Venezuelan ballet master, Henry Hernandez. Henry is best known for the film First Position, a documentary about competitive ballet. He made Sam believe that she could succeed as a professional ballerina. In college at Florida State University, she danced with a professional company while majoring in painting and art history.
Henry taught her that ballet is all about image, about lines and creating beautiful shapes. It is a mixture of a sport and an art form, and a certain look is required. Every move makes a shape, which is composed of “lines”. In every ballet competition and every ballet magazine, the girls are skinny because the directors want longer lines—the skinnier you are, the longer your lines look.
The process of applying for a major ballet company is rigorous and highly competitive. A dancer begins by sending video and photo auditions to the company. If those are approved, they get invited to the audition. They usually have to fly or drive across country to compete with around 200 other girls.
After ten minutes of dancing, they line up, and are approved or declined. If chosen, they stay until the next round. This process repeats until there are only five or ten dancers left. These are told that they might be offered a contract.
Sam intends to apply to several larger companies in 2017, but until then she is busy with productions here. This summer she will be rehearsing with choreographers from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week. They recently hired a new artistic director at Chattanooga Ballet—Andrew Parker worked at the National Ballet of Canada, and is now teaching at Boston Ballet.
He is going to push the company in a modern direction, putting it on par with larger national companies. The combination of a really good piece of music and dancing can be a moving experience. “I tear up when I see some pieces, especially contemporary ones. In this technological age, we’re now utilizing a combination of dance and video. There are so many productions that incorporate both, it’s really wonderful.”
Sam is bringing her art skills to the ballet world, doing graphic design for The World Ballet, The Tallahassee Ballet, and The Chattanooga Ballet. She is also collaborating with author Karen Robertson to illustrate a book for children, and continuing her work as a painter. “I’m working on a commissioned oil painting right now, but personally I’m really liking watercolor. I’m trying to stay away from the figure, because that was all I did for a while. Now I’m doing landscapes, still life, and animals.”
Though she doesn’t take music as seriously as dancing or art, you might see her sing and play a song at an open mic—living proof that the creative part of the brain can function in multiple areas of the arts.