Sophie Rebecca adjusted her leggings and wiped her forehead with a towel after rehearsing for an upcoming performance in Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater’s Ballet Beyond Borders event.
Rebecca traveled from the UK to Missoula to perform in the event which focuses on dance as a cultural phenomenon where the dancers are diplomats. Throughout the four-day event, dancers participate in activities centered on using dance to advocate for human rights, justice and world peace.
As Rebecca walked past the studio on Friday, several dancers waved at her through a window.
“I felt so incredibly welcome here,” Rebecca said. “On the first day I asked where I could get Yorkshire tea and someone came out and bought a bunch and brought it back.”
Rebecca only had a few days to learn a 10-minute choreographed ballet routine which she will perform at the event’s gala. She will also talk about her experience as an older trans dancer at a diplomatic conference.
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Rebecca said she always wanted to be a ballerina. She wanted to wear tutus, dance female roles and glide on stage in front of an audience.
This dream was put on hold when she struggled to find a teacher who would accept her as a gender dysphoric boy. At 16, before the transition, Rebecca thought she had found a teacher who could help her realize her dream of dancing. However, they learned about gender dysphoria from Rebecca and told her they couldn’t teach her any more.
The experience broke Rebecca’s heart and sent her on the path to trying to act like a boy. She worked as a racing driver and settled into a job in IT, but she still wanted to dance. Rebecca said she faced many challenges not only as a trans dancer, but also as an older dancer.
Rebecca lived in various parts of the UK and with each town she moved to, she would leaf through a phone book and contact dance studios to try and find someone who would teach her.
It wasn’t until she was 30 that she finally found a studio that she could call home. Lynne Reucroft-Croome, a teacher at the Lynton Academy of Dance where Rebecca trains, decided to take Rebecca on.
She started taking one to five classes a week as she continued her transition.
In 2013, the Royal Academy of Dance changed its policy that only biologically born dancers could attend its female classes, which allowed Rebecca to take an exam, which assesses dancers’ abilities to push themselves mentally, physically and technically. .
Since passing the exam, Rebecca has continued to practice despite still being a relatively new performer. Her first performance was in February 2018 for her ballet school show.
“When the music starts, that feeling is indescribable,” said Rebecca. “The lights come on, the music starts, your body takes over. When it was over, I burst into tears.
Charlene Campbell Carey, president and executive producer of Ballet Beyond Borders, first invited Rebecca to perform a few years ago, shortly after Rebecca transitioned in 2016.
Rebecca was initially hesitant but eventually agreed to star in this year’s production as her first overseas performance.
She said she was nervous about the challenges of travel, like wondering which bathroom to use or how TSA agents would act around her.
Since being in Missoula, Rebecca said she felt welcome. She pulled out a photo of graffiti she came across while walking along the Clark Fork River between rehearsals that championed trans rights.
“Dancing saved me,” Rebecca said. “If people see me dancing and it only encourages one other trans kid, it’s worth it.”