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Ballet to branding

David Ligon (AD, 2021)

I’m a very impatient person. When I was five, or thereabouts, my father would always cheat while we played Candyland so that I’d always end up landing on Queen Frostine. That’s all I cared about. Not Princess Lolly, but Queen Frostine. It wasn’t even about winning the game, or the excitement of the gameplay—my only goal was to collect the Queen. This unfortunate characteristic of sprinting towards an end goal without appreciating the journey would follow me for the majority of my life, and one that I still wrestle with today.

Growing up, I knew I was going to be a professional ballet dancer. By 12, I had mentally checked out of school—it was not a prerequisite to becoming a dancer. My goal was clear, and Robert Lewis Stevenson was getting in the way. An arrogant SOB, I would even brag that I’d be getting paid by the time I graduated high school. Luckily, in South Carolina, where I grew up, the newly established Governor’s School for the Arts existed and saved me from public high school. Even there, a place that was perfect for nurturing my talents, I was rushing to get out so I could join a company. It didn’t help that when I was 15, San Francisco Ballet offered me a full scholarship to study at their school with the hint of being able to join the company within a year. So just after my 16th birthday, I moved across the country without parental supervision to begin studying at what you could call a portfolio school for ballet.

In a little over nine months, I was on stage dancing corps de ballet roles with SFB and getting paid to do so, while still being a student. I didn’t have the maturity to appreciate what was happening, and I began to inadvertently signal to the director of the school that I felt like I was already a member of the company. But my impatience got the best of me; by the end of that school year, I was not invited back. I had not gotten a contract with the company. While it stung, all was not completely lost: I danced professionally for the next 12 years of my life, from Seattle to Las Vegas and back to San Francisco, where I began choreographing and experimenting with design and advertising.

But impatience again reared its ugly head when I made the decision to stop dancing full-time, come home to South Carolina, and attend USC. Even when I went back to school, semi-retired, I was rushing to graduate. I mean, I did so in three years with two degrees, but that’s beside the point. By rushing through, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t listening to the professor who was a veteran of the industry telling me that if I really wanted to be an art director, I’d have to go to portfolio school. But the thought of spending two more years in school felt exhausting.

Over time, I found that impatience was dismissive of what was going on in the present moment. It took years of therapy, medication, and Eckhart Tolle for me to appreciate it. Most of us come to Brandcenter because we want so badly to be in an industry that won’t look at us twice if we haven’t gone to portfolio school. But for me, coming to Brandcenter pumped the brakes, made me see my shortcomings, and allowed me to blossom into a better creative.

Probably not since I first stepped into a dance studio have I felt like I was meant to be right where I was. I feel that at the Brandcenter. Most everyone here is just as weird and neurotic as me with a love for solving problems creatively. What feels different now, is that I don’t feel rushed. I know in order to get to where I want to be, I have to be a sponge for the entirety of the game, not get ahead of myself, and not be dismissive of the process.

As I move into my last semester, it’s hard not to be a little scared that my time here is coming to an end. Will this career be as enjoyable as this school? Will this even work out? Or were these past two years the best they’ll ever be? If that’s the case, so be it, because I have such great memories and a boatload of new friends who’ve made me a better person. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’m in no rush to find out because I want to enjoy the view for as long as I can, even if it’s on Zoom.