As many of you know, I started mentoring teenage and college age girls back in 2011. It was one of those things that I didn’t set out to do, but that God brought in my life so kindly. I am forever grateful for these girls and the way they have helped to shape me. In 2017 I felt a strong call from God to reach out to a senior in high school named Julia. This caught me a little off guard since Julia and I did not know each other. We had never met. She danced at the same dance academy as my niece, and for some reason, God called me to start praying for her and then to reach out. So I did, and I’ll never be the same. She is a gift and the opportunity to watch her start a relationship with Jesus this year and navigate some tough things has been a true privilege.
I decided to interview Julia as a final blog for 2017 because of what she has walked through this year. In a biography that she wrote for English this year, she said, “In pursuit of a professional career, I committed myself to becoming the best ballerina I was capable of being, and it was within this training that there became a build-up of a burning desire for more of my own personality, relationships and community, a strong faith, knowledge in other things- more Julia. Ultimately, my yearning heart initiated a huge life change that no one, including me, saw coming.” It’s been quite the journey and I hope you enjoy getting to know Julia Patterson as much as I have!
What was your dream growing up? To be a ballerina in a big, professional ballet company.
What were you doing to achieve that dream? I spent the last twelve years of my life living and breathing ballet. I watched YouTube videos and movies about ballet or recordings of big companies performing. I was either always at ballet class or stretching or doing some sort of cross training. I was fully committed to becoming a ballerina.
What was your favorite role that you played? The Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker! I loved becoming a role that was sweet and charming yet powerful and required technique and tons of stamina.
How many times did you dance that role? My Junior and Senior years, so six shows. My Junior year was extra special because I didn’t think I was capable of doing a full pas de deux, especially that one, and I thrived with that challenge.
Entering into your Senior year, what was your plan for post-high school? To dance professionally or attend a dance school with the goal of dancing professionally. I spent all of first semester focusing in on technique and keeping my body in good shape and taking care of my injuries to prepare for audition season.
Where did you audition? Sarasota Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) and Juilliard. And I was immediately offered a spot to dance in the Texas Ballet Theater’s professional division and was waitlisted and eventually accepted to UNCSA.
What about traditional college? Was that ever on the radar? No. My parents made me apply to the University of Georgia (UGA) just in case something happened to my body that would prevent me from dancing. I was accepted during early admission, before audition season even started.
Tell me about the journey of making the decision about where you would end up. At the time I had three options: 1. UGA 2. Texas 3. Wait to hear from UNSCA. I had spent the previous summer at UNCSA and had decided that was where I really wanted to be. I held out for that as long as I could.
What was going on in your heart during that time? I felt a lot of pressure from dance teachers, family and friends because I felt like becoming a ballerina was the expectation. Looking back I can see that I was misinterpreting their encouragement and cheering me on as an expectation. They were communicating that they were on my side, but because of the pressure I was putting on myself I didn’t think that anything else would make me feel as full or as successful. I thought that only a professional ballet career would lead to a full life.
What changed? I was burnt out and lost my spark that I’d had every other year leading up to that year because I was going so hard. But my senior year was the year it mattered most, so that worried me. It was the only year that really mattered because it was the only time these companies would see me. So the time where it mattered most, I lost my spark.
What do you mean you lost your spark? I wasn’t as passionate about it. I think I got way too caught up in my body image. I hated the way I looked and couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t watch videos of myself dancing because I would cry.
What brought that on? Being too critical of myself. People told me I was good, but I couldn’t see it. I would see people on Instagram or people I had performed with in the past that were great, but I couldn’t see that in myself.
So did you decide to stop dancing because you thought you weren’t good enough? Even though I didn’t think I was good enough, it wasn’t up to me to decide, it was up to artistic directors to decide if I was. That’s what kept me going through the audition process. And I had great coaches and teachers that helped me keep my head straight during the audition process.
At decision time, what changed in your heart? I had two very extreme options. Graduate from high school and move to Texas on my own and start my career, or forget everything I’d done the past twelve years and go to UGA, which would mean losing the dream I’d had since I was three.
We know you are at UGA now. Why UGA? I think for the first time, people told me it was OK to go to school. And I didn’t let myself believe that until the very end. Actually, I probably still didn’t believe it until I got there, but there was a small part of my heart that was begging for more. I had seen little glimpses of it from my time tutoring and going to football games at school. I saw how a lot of my high school friends had developed their “person” throughout high school and I felt like all I had to give to people was a good performance.
How has it been at UGA? The first word I think of is full. In every area. I am challenged in my schoolwork, which I expected going into a good college. I think God has given me incredible community, starting with my roommate, who I love so much. I’ve gotten involved with the Wesley Foundation and through that joined the freshman program called Freshley. There I joined a small group and attended my very first Christian retreat. It was just so cool get away from campus with a bunch of other freshman who were also pursuing Jesus and spend a couple of days away. It was there that, for the first time, I truly knew that my identity is in Christ.
How has that revelation changed how you look at laying down your dance dream? Looking back, can you see God working in that time?Well, I ended up receiving an acceptance email to UNCSA two days after I officially committed to UGA. UNCSA was by far my first choice, because I felt a lot more comfort in being in a place I knew I loved, so getting that email broke my heart and caused a lot of doubt in the tough decision I’d just made. Now I see that God’s timing of that acceptance email wasn’t cruel, but actually kind.
That’s a pretty big statement. What do you mean by that? He protected me from the heartache I would have felt from saying no to UNSCA. I never actually had to say no to them because I was on the waitlist. I didn’t know then that I could trust His timing like I know I can now. I’m so thankful for how perfectly He timed those few weeks in my life.
That’s really beautiful.
Oh no, you’re crying! What’s making you sad? It still hurts me that I had to give up my dream because I still want it. But, God has revealed his kindness to me in the way he brought dance back into my life at UGA. No, it’s not exactly what I love about ballet: I love dancing something beautiful and dancing classical ballet repertoire and learning about different styles of ballet. But, I’ve been given the opportunity to do things that I never have before, like exploring contemporary dance. I am really inspired by how the dance majors can move and I love seeing their passion for dance.
Have you had the chance to perform? Yes. And performing is my favorite thing about dancing, so that has been a huge blessing. I was cast in two student choreographed contemporary pieces, which took me out of my comfort zone and it was fun to be able to do that alongside other UGA dancers.
Is the future bright? The future is bright. I have a lot to look forward to in the coming semester, specifically my mission trip to Jamaica. I am so excited to get to know my team and get to spend multiple Sundays in worship with them. I’ll meet my small group that I’ll be with throughout my mission trip and I’ll be with one of my Freshley small group leaders. I am really excited about that.
Well, you’ve had a big year! What advice would you give to a current senior in high school in the same position as you were last year? I’ll come cry with you! Cause it’s hard. Find Jesus cause he’ll take you where you need to go.
What is the Bible verse that God has used to impact your heart the most this year? There are two that have been really good for me this year.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with his love, He rejoices over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
Julia, I am so very proud of you. Not many people have to make the choice of laying down a dream at such a young age, but you did it so gracefully and God has so faithfully walked with you. At the time you didn’t even know of God’s faithfulness, yet you listened to that still small voice in your heart. Now you walk with Jesus and are growing at such a rapid pace. I am inspired by you every day and can’t wait to see all that God does in your life and all that you do as you walk obediently with Him. You will not regret any step that you take with Jesus.
If you made it to the end and want to encourage Julia by supporting her mission trip, please click HERE. From that page you can click to donate. Be sure to include her name, Julia Patterson, as the student that you are supporting.