Lily Marks felt like an “ugly duckling.” As a child, her flat feet and weak knees meant that she walked differently from other people. Orthopedic shoes and leg braces were meant to correct the issue, but made her stand out even more from other children. She envied the pretty slippers her sisters wore.

Lily began dance classes on the recommendation of a doctor who thought it might help strengthen her legs. In ballet class, Lily stood out, but not because of her unusual gait. She had a natural talent that set her apart from the other ballerinas. But no one believed the girl who walked so awkwardly with her feet pointed out could become a real dancer.

Being “different” can feel like a heavy burden to a child, but those who walk a different path in life can sometimes be trailblazers. When Greta Thunberg was mocked for having Aspergers, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum disorder, she proudly said, “I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And - given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.” Now one of the most famous climate change activists in the world, her impact has been so profound that it has its own name: “the Greta effect.”

Lily Marks is remembered as one of the greatest ballerinas of the twentieth century. Known by her stage name Alicia Markova, one of her most famous roles was “The Dying Swan.” It turns out she was a swan all along.

Read more about the first Jewish prima ballerina in An Unlikely Ballerina.