I was seventeen years old when I landed in New York City on
September 1st, 1981. At the very beginning, an amalgamation of
fear, excitement, and loneliness were my daily companions in
equal measure. The city was bursting with such high energy that
this overwhelmed me at times. I had never experienced so much chaos, and such an abundance of everything—people, cars, shops, lights. I found my new environment harsh yet irresistible and when I had settled in a bit more, my sense of being lost was swiftly replaced with the discovery of a newfound freedom embodying every atom.

Being completely on my own became the most liberating and exhilarating of all my previous experiences. In NY it was fine to experiment, fine to be different, fine to express yourself in the most extravagant style. Individuality, inquisitiveness, and open-mindedness were celebrated and not judged, and I absorbed this new reality deeply as it allowed me to flourish in many new and unexpected ways. Feeling light-headed, I realize that to be a ballerina was just one path amidst multiple choices and endless possibilities. In fact, studying classical ballet seemed to be the least interesting thing I could do in this extraordinary place that had shaken me to my core.

I experienced an internal revolution. Day after day, my eyes
were wide open collecting information of all sorts and slowly
transforming my personality and aesthetic into something more
daring than just the diligent young dancer I used to be. As I was
birthing new parts of myself, still unknown to me, fate was already
grooming me for things to come.

My new residence, a posh boarding house for young women with artistic dispositions, was conveniently located between Central Park West and the Lincoln Center. In the very beginning I was shy and riddled with insecurities, choosing to isolate myself from others. But soon after my arrival, a couple of lively girls from California who occupied the bedrooms closest to mine warmly introduced themselves to me, and new friendships were soon forged. One of them was studying fashion, the other acting, and we were soon like The Three Musketeers, fencing our way through the concrete jungle. I was truly living the life of one of the characters of those American TV series so popular in Europe, where youth was celebrated.

Although I had one big worry. The school that Tina had chosen had failed to inspire me. I felt so guilty as my main reason to be in NY was to further my dancing career. Because of the discipline I had formerly acquired, I was forcing myself to attend the ballet classes daily, hoping that I might change my opinion and
like my new teachers a bit more. Usually I trained in the morning
so I could have the rest of the afternoon free to wander around,
absorbing the electrifying atmosphere of my new surroundings.

It was in NY where I initially became fascinated with fashion,
where some of my favorite destinations had names like Bergdorf
Goodman and Bloomingdale’s. At first I was rather intimidated by
these megastores. In the past I had visited plenty of elegant shops
in both Florence and Monte Carlo with my mother, but nothing
had prepared me for the magnitude of these American temples of
style, small citadels of luxury goods.

Excerpted from The Shapeshifter: A Tale from Glitter to Light with Permission from Waterside Productions

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