The moment Hope Bartram slips into her delicate pointe ballet shoes, she becomes a different person.
No longer is the 14-year-old a clumsy, accident-prone freshman. She bends to tie her long satiny laces and rises an elegant dancer—flawless, she said. Perfect.
“On stage she’s graceful,” Hope’s mother Toni Bartram said. “She’s fluid. You can see the joy in her movements and in her personality.”
The student at Pilot Point High School has been dancing for seven years. This year, she’ll perform in The Festival Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” for the fifth time in a row. The show is something she has cherished for a long time, since the very beginning of a ballet career born, in part, from the ashes of a harrowing childhood accident.
“It was Labor Day weekend, 2012,” Hope said. “On September first, at eight years old, I was bitten by a German shepherd.”
The attack was severe, and it caused extensive damage to the area around Hope’s mouth. She was care-flighted to Cooke Children’s Hospital, and she waited four days before undergoing her first surgery.
“The dog took a chunk out of her cheek,” Toni said. “It took out a corner out of her mouth; you could see her teeth. They took skin from her belly and used it to put a skin graft over the wound, then sewed antibiotic gauze to her face.”
Despite the efforts of a talented team of doctors, the damage was severe. Hope hated the way the yellow gauze looked on her face, and she was incredibly self-conscious, constantly afraid people would make fun of her.
A few months after the accident, Hope’s cousin Maddie suggested they join a ballet class together at Cooke County Ballet Academy.
Maddie, who is one year younger than Hope, was born with a giant congenital nevus. She’s had five surgeries around the corner of her mouth, and has a scar very similar to Hope’s.
“She wanted to try it but was afraid that people would make fun of her scar,” Hope said.
The two cousins have always shared a special bond, even before Hope’s encounter with the German shepherd. They agreed to take the class together, and before long Hope fell in love.
She found her passion. Even after Maddie lost interest, Hope continued to hone her new skill. Several months into training, Hope decided to audition for “The Nutcracker.” It was the first time she’d ever auditioned for anything, and her nerves ran wild.
“She said to me, ‘Mom, what if they don’t pick me because of my scar?’” Toni recalled. “I said, ‘Honey, go out there and do your best. Show ‘em what you got and smile.’ Normally her scar doesn’t bother her at all. But I’ll always remember how worried she was that first year.”
Hope ended up landing a coveted role “on pointe” after having danced on pointe shoes for only two months. Since then, she’s continued auditioning and has played various roles within the show’s extensive ensemble.
One of Hope’s favorite parts of dancing is sharing her passion with others. She loves to talk to people about dance, and oftentimes her unbridled enthusiasm encourages others to get involved. She even convinced her “scaredy-cat” older sister Elizabeth Bullock to try out jazz.
“She has that overwhelming passion,” Bullock said. “She wants everyone to know what it’s like and to feel her experiences with her.”
Having an effect on the community is a special feeling unlike anything, Hope said. She recalled running into a young fan at the pumpkin patch a few months ago. She had just gotten out of rehearsal and was still in costume. A young girl spotted her and was absolutely elated. She couldn’t help gushing to Hope all about her love for the classic tale.
“In that moment, I felt like one of the stars of the show,” Hope said.
Being in the “The Nutcracker” is grueling on an already rigorous schedule, with Hope devoting a minimum of four nights a week to dance training. In addition, she’s taking three advanced placement classes and is also involved in UIL science and FFCLA. To Hope, it’s all worth it.
Dancing fills her with a joy she just can’t put into words, Hope said. Her dream after high school is to continue studying dance at Juilliard University in New York. After that, she’s toyed with the idea of opening up her own “big and beautiful” dance studio.
Until then, Hope said she is content to continue dancing in “The Nutcracker.”
“The show is a timeless tradition around Christmas time,” Toni said. “It’s magical.”
Hope will perform “The Nutcracker” with The Festival Ballet of North Central Texas on Saturday and Sunday at the Margo Jones Performance Hall. After months of rehearsal, the young dancer is excited to do what she loves for an audience once again.
“Dancing fills me with overwhelming joy,” Hope said. “My advice is to try not to let what you look like interfere with how you feel. At first I was scared that people would make fun of me. Now I’ve learned to love my scar; it makes me unique and beautiful.”