After Years as A Dancer and Violinist, I Discovered True Creativity

May 1, 2018

Some of you may have noticed that recently I’ve been writing about creativity. My team and I have been dreaming up a movement that encourages all to live richly through uncovering creative moments in our day-to-day lives. Well, Clara Milligan my right hand gal—AKA Content Marketing Manager—has been “moodling” along with me, so I asked her to share her journey to True Creativity. I think you’ll be inspired! -elle

p.s. For more on living richly, join our Creative Uncovery Facebook Group!

  By Clara Milligan

I was on the path to become a ballerina, a violinist, a writer, and an actress. I wrote and produced a play, performed with professional ballet dancers in The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet, played in a symphony, won a speech tournament, and was the lead in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. 

In other words, I was a typical overachieving American teenager.

I danced ballet for eight years and played the violin for nine. When I realized that I would either need to join the pre-professional ballet company, practice the violin for five hours a day, or quit both, I chose what felt easiest. I put my ballet shoes and violin in storage under my bed and didn’t pull them out again for the next few years. I had musicals to perform in and college applications to submit! There wasn’t time for everything anymore.


I felt confident in my choice to quit until I was sitting in my History of Western Music course my freshman year of college. We watched a video of the violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn playing a Paganini Concerto, one that I had played selections from. I noticed tears welling up in my eyes.

At first, I thought I was grieving that I’d given up on the violin.

But it was deeper than that: I missed having an artistic outlet to express myself.

I had grown up learning various art forms, and now, I was only taking art appreciation courses. I wasn’t fully using my creative abilities anymore, and I knew it.

I have a feeling that this story is not unique to me. Whether you took painting classes or learned to play the piano, there comes a time when young people feel forced to choose between giving their lives to their art or putting it under their bed for storage.

But when we view creating art as either a class for children or a profession for adults, it leaves the rest of us creatively starved.


I believe that we don’t have to live in the dichotomy between student and virtuoso. I believe that we can pursue art for the sake of expressing ourselves and nothing more. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and for those of us with classical training in any art form, it may be especially difficult.

When I moved back home for the summer, I took my violin out from under my bed and played it. Though I was pleasantly surprised by my muscle memory and ability to read music after a 3-year hiatus, my callouses were gone, my intonation was off, and I bumped the wrong string too many times to count. Regret came quickly: Why didn’t I practice more? Why didn’t I start that string quartet I dreamed about? And why on EARTH did I quit?

Soon after that, I started rationalizing. My pinkies are too short to play the violin anyway. There’s no way I would have time to practice in college.

Finally, I got discouraged and put my instrument away.

Why did I give up so quickly? My mistake was in forcing myself into the student-virtuoso dichotomy: since I’m not a child learning to play the violin, I held myself to the standard of a virtuoso.


My foray back into dancing happened somewhat accidentally.

When my youngest sister invited me to go to Project Dance NYC with her dance company a few months ago, I immediately said yes. At the time, I imagined chaperoning my sister and her friends around the city, taking them to coffee shops in Manhattan, and watching them dance.

I didn’t imagine that committing to the trip would rekindle my own love for dance, and I definitely didn’t foresee myself performing for the masses. But as the trip approached, I found myself rehearsing a lyrical dance to perform with my sister’s teachers and packing up my old ballet slippers for the masterclasses I’d take while in NYC. Two weekends ago, on a stage in Times Square, I made my New York City dancing debut. Although it had been almost ten years since my last ballet performance, I danced with confidence—a far cry from my discouraged attempts to play the violin again.

A week before the trip, some other dancers and I decided to perform an improvised worship dance in addition to our choreographed piece. On that stage in Times Square with hundreds of onlookers and no planned choreography, I felt more freedom and joy than I’d ever experienced in any performance. Instead of lamenting my lost flexibility and long-gone endurance, I chose to focus on expressing my heart and bringing joy to those watching.


In that moment, I had found the middle ground between childhood ballet lessons and the adult pressure to join a professional company. I found true creativity!

I danced for expression, not perfection.

I was motivated to give my best by joy, not fear.

I thought about moving my audience, not impressing them.

I transformed all those lessons I took growing up into a lesson I’m always learning to express myself creatively.

Creative expression is not just an extracurricular for students or a life calling for professionals. It is a desire deep within all of us to share our hearts through whatever means we feel called—whether that’s dancing on Times Square or fumbling through a melody on the violin at home.

That’s my story—but what’s yours? I’d love to hear how you re-kindled your passion for art you pursued growing up or found  a new creative outlet.

"Elle’s insight into how our clients can confidently manage the changes they are facing was both informative and engaging. We received great feedback about the event—especially the opportunity Elle gave all of us to discuss the personal challenges we have faced."

— Christine Carleton, Senior Wealth Advisor - Truepoint Wealth

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