My name is Ryan Lee. When I was in the fifth grade, a friend of mine urged me to come join her at her dance studio. I ended up going, and I was put in the Teen Company class even though I was an 11 year old beginner so that I could be with my friend who was much more advanced.
This was a competition studio like you see on the show Dance Moms and being in "Company" means that you take all different types of dance and compete in dance competitions. It was quite the shock to go from never really having danced before to dancing 20 hours a week, but being in an atmosphere were I had no experience but was required to do all sorts of fancy tricks really pushed me hard and I caught up to all of the older girls fairly quickly. I stayed pretty intimidated throughout this experience because I was far younger than all of the other girls (who were as old as 16) but I grew to love it. Lyrical was my favorite class to take, and the greatest irony is that I hated ballet. About a year after I joined, a Russian-style ballet school began to share the space at my studio and we began taking ballet class with them because it was convenient. At first I was terrified of the teacher--who wouldn't be when he'd frequently say, "Ryan, I kill you!" when you do something wrong? But after a little while, I realized something. Ballet is literally impossible, and a high level in competition dance is fairly attainable. Ballet gives me something that competition dance never could - a real goal to strive for. After I got pointe shoes (I was the last one in my class) and danced in The Nutcracker, I became more and more of a ballet dancer than a competition dancer. Soon, I knew that's what I wanted to do. And if I was going to pursue ballet, I needed to go to a real ballet school.
I ended up switching to one ballet school that I'd seen a poster for when I was 13, but it ended up being a toxic environment for me. They made me roll my thighs on a foam roller for 15 minutes everyday because "they were too big" and I developed severe tendinitis in both my ankles to the point where it hurt to walk. Feeling like I could never be a ballerina because I supposedly didn't have the body for it, I became very depressed and quit dancing all together. I shut myself off from everyone and everything for about three months until my mom suggested I work with one of my old teachers at the competition studio just to see how I felt. After working with her for about a month, I wanted to do ballet again.
This new place that I tried ended up changing my life--International Ballet School. It was the polar opposite of the previous school I went to; it was painted various bright colors and everyone was very friendly and it was just an overall welcoming environment. I struggled immensely my first few years there--I was very far behind everyone else and was asked to do things I'd never thought I could do before. I was only in corps de ballet pieces in all of the first shows I did (and girls younger than me were getting soloist parts) but I didn't mind, I loved it. It wasn't until I was about 16 and I started taking private lessons that I started to take off. Working one-on-one with my teacher changed my life. That year I got Arabian in The Nutcracker and for the first time, people noticed me. I competed in Youth America Grand Prix and even though I didn't place in the top 12, I wanted to give it another go the next year. I miraculously ended up getting to dance the part of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella when the original girl quit--that was huge because I went from the near bottom of the totem pole, to much closer to the top and I was completely elated.
That summer I went to American Ballet Theater's summer intensive in NYC, and though I didn't particularly like it, it was a goal I accomplished that I didn't think I could when I was younger. Life was really picking up for me and I realized for the first time that I could actually do this--I really could become a professional ballet dancer if I worked hard enough. The next year at YAGP I got in the top 12 and received a special invitation from one of the judges to attended the finals in NYC, where I was given a scholarship to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy's summer intensive in New York. I got to be the star in the spring ballet--Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. I got to go to a summer program in Dresden, Germany.
It really felt like the sky was the limit for me... but through all of this there was something that kept nagging me. My left hip was always in pain--it had been for a while, I just didn't want to crush my fairytale by acknowledging it. As it turned out, I had a pretty severely torn labrum and a congenital condition in which the neck on the head of my femur has extra bone that pinches it. In March of my senior year, I had to get surgery. It was devastating to me to have to sit so much of my last year out and recovery was very difficult. After struggling to regain the ability to walk and do basic everyday things like tying my shoes, I was eventually able to start taking classes and stretching again by the summer. It has been a very rough journey up to now, but I feel that all of the struggles I've been through have made me a better person. This year I'll be in the studio company at Colorado Ballet, and I couldn't be more excited to finally be in the place that my 13 year old self never believed I'd be.
I don’t go out on Friday nights. The odd thing is that I don’t wish to be anywhere else but there: in the studio where mangled bobby pins, stranded clumps of hair, forgotten toe spacers, sweaty warm ups, and abandoned water bottles lay strewn across the floor. Like every little girl, I was enrolled in ballet classes at my local recreation center at age three but my real dancing career didn’t start until I began high school. Training everyday at Denver Academy of Ballet, I took classes in ballet, modern, jazz, pointe, pas-de-deux, and repertoire. During my time there I trained for and competed in Youth America Grand Prix as well as performed notable roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Giselle in Giselle. Although, it wasn’t all fun and breezy.
While in high school, I suffered from depression, low self esteem, and anorexia. I was even prevented from dancing the role of Sugar Plum my sophomore year one week before the show because my director had, rightly, deemed me too unhealthy to dance and I had to recover before I could do another plié. Ballet more than anything else has always been my light and therapy; It motivated me to recover as well as to do well in school. I participated in NHS and FHS, took AP classes, achieved high honors, and won several awards and scholarships because ballet had instilled in me discipline and taught me how to work hard and enjoy it.
I would also like to note that none of this would have been possible without the help and guidance of my wonderful teachers such as Rob and Chandra Kuykendall, Tiffany Best, and Faith Madison. They were all like parents and friends to me and I would not be where I am today without them - Thank you. All those Friday nights in the studio were really worth it. As of September 2014, I have been training with esteemed professors such as Carol Roderick, Chung-Fu Chang, and Jane Slusarski-Harris as a dance major at Colorado State University. I've had the opportunity to take courses in the essentials such as ballet and modern technique, as well as classes such as improvisation, choreography, repertoire, and dance history. My technique has revamped and refreshed here and it’s paying off. I was lucky enough to perform the 2nd Odalisque variation from La Bayadere as a freshman in the Fall Dance Concert as well as guest artist Judy Bejarano’s piece and several student pieces.
This spring I have been accepted to numerous summer intensives and I have even been offered a spot in the pre-professional program at State Street Ballet for the 2015-16 school year. I am uncertain of what lies ahead, but I am thankful for all the teachers that supported and inspired me on my journey thus far and I hope that I will continue to improve and give more everyday.
Lights, camera, dance! My name is Eleanor Kim, but most of my friends call me “Ellina.” I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I am 75% Korean and 25% Caucasian. I live in Denver, Colorado, and dance at Denver Academy of Ballet. I began ballet when I was 6 years old because I saw Colorado Ballet’s“The Nutcracker” and I wanted to dance and be a part of the “stage life.” My parents told me that even when I was 2 years old, I would always jump and pretend to be a dancing butterfly, so my mom decided to enroll me in ballet classes. This was the best decision she could have made!
I joined the Academy of Colorado Ballet and I danced there until I was 10. I then moved studios to Denver Academy of Ballet, and still currently dance here (I am now 17 years old). Ballet has become my passion and I could not imagine living without it! I was cast as the role of “Clara” at my new studio’s production of The Nutcracker. I was so excited and could not wait to perform! My main teachers, Rob and Chandra Kuykendall, have trained me ever since then and I could not thank them enough. I have performed roles such as Clara, the Arabian solo, the Dew Drop Fairy, Sugar Plum Fairy, in the Nutcracker, and many other roles from other ballets and contemporary pieces. I will also be performing the role of Kitri in my studio’s upcoming production of Don Quixote!
I have competed at the Youth America Grand Prix twice and received a top 12 prize both years. I have also done The Denver Ballet Guild Competition and received 5th place out of 10 finalists, with a monetary prize, for two years in a row! I am really grateful!
However, with all of these great accomplishments, comes hard work and overcoming obstacles. I had to learn the difference between healthy competition and unhealthy competition, at a very young age. I had really unpleasant experiences with unhealthy competition and jealous friends, right around when I got “Clara.” There were many moments where I wanted to quit ballet and give up. Luckily, I have overcome these challenges by praying to God and talking with my mom and my ballet teacher. It was definitely not easy to move on without the other girls, but I did. I have learned to and still am developing a backbone. I now understand healthy competition versus unhealthy competition, and realize competition will be everywhere. You just have to handle it right.
I also go to conventional school: St. Mary’s Academy. Going to a regular high school is very challenging and hard on the mind and body. I am a sophomore and am taking my first AP class this year. Managing school and the rigorous ballet schedule is very demanding. I don’t get much sleep, but hard work pays off. Ballet and school makes me very disciplined. I have received many academic awards in school and have been on the Honor Roll every year. I do not have a normal teenage life, but I don’t regret giving up my weekends for ballet. I am happier because ballet is what I love and look forward to. Ballet has made me who I am today and I don’t think I could ever live without it!
Ever since I was 3 years old, I loved ballet. I enjoyed the movement, the handwork and concentration. I felt free when I was in the studio. I felt as if I could do anything and had the strength to achieve the goals I had set for myself.
I began my dance career at a high level when I was around 5 years old. Even then my teachers were having me practice for competitions and shows. Little did I know dance would become such a huge part of my life. Every day I was in the studio, I strive to be better than I was before, stronger in my movements. There were ups and downs with my training, but I pushed through. Dance isn't just about having the right body or the best technique. Its about having the dedication to do your best. Even when you fail. There are times when you will fail and you won't want to continue, but that is when the real miracle happens. You get stronger than ever. There are times in my training where I don't want to try hard, where I don't want to go to class and impress my teachers. But if I learn to push my boundaries, I gain confidence and passion to do what I love. Passion is what its all about. Ballet is nothing without passion.
For the past 5 years, I have been in many performances and competitions that require so much dedication and hard work, but as you step on stage and smile into the crowd you have to remember why you started dancing and what you are dancing for. That burning fire in your heart to be the very best you can, that is passion. There is a quote that I always stick to, "Dancers are not great for their technique, they are great because of their passion for it." This quote means the world to my dance career and has kept me going when I feel like failure is all I ever have. But when you look past all the negatives in training, you see the other side where you become the person you've strived to be. Whether its a professional ballerina, or a dancer just taking class you are the passion that keeps your career moving.
This last winter I was Clara in the Nutcracker for the first time. My teacher would tell me during rehearsals, "Dance with your heart. Show the audience that you're a young girl that loves to dance." I pushed my limits and danced with my heart during those performances and it made all the difference. So, for all you dancers out there not knowing where to go or having a time of hopelessness, think about why you started in the first place and how much you love what you do. Dance to express not to impress. Don't worry about what others think, dance for yourself. I know that is hard to do, but if you push your borders I guarantee you will achieve those goals you have always wanted.
My name is Sallie Collamore and at the age of three my mom took me to my first ballet class at Ballet Petite. I thought it was the coolest thing ever because we got to dance around in tutus and act like princesses for hours, it was a little girl's dream come true. Little did I know that ballet would grow to be one of the most important things in my life and allow me to have amazing opportunities I never thought were possible. After a few years at Ballet Petite, I then moved to the Washington School of Ballet where I discovered my love for dance and realized that ballet was not just about the pretty costumes and make up, but about expressing yourself and discovering yourself through dancing, which came with a lot of hard work along the way. I studied at the Washington School of Ballet for eight years and it is there that I experienced some of the most rewarding and amazing moments in my life. It is where I fell in love with performing because every Christmas season the company put on a production of the Nutcracker and kids got to be apart of it. My first Nutcracker I was the littlest mouse, then I was a party girl, followed by baby clown, clown, butterfly, and frontier girl. Performing in the Nutcracker was always the highlight of the year because like all ballerinas, we all work so hard in order to experience the feeling of being on stage and performing. By the time I was nine, I was in level three and it was the year we would learn to go on pointe. The school had just gotten a new director and I soon found out he was going to be my new teacher.
This teacher was Mr. Han and I can honestly say he is the reason I am where I am today. He taught me so much about what it is to work hard and really have a goal that he would mentor me to achieve. He ended up being my teacher for six years and enabled me to reach many of my goals that of course help me along the way to achieving every ballerinas main goal of becoming a professional. A big goal he helped me achieve was performing at the Kennedy Center. I got to perform in Don Quixote and Le Corsaire, two of my favorite ballets, with the Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center and at that moment I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to perform forever because being on stage was the greatest feeling in the world. You feel as though no one can touch you and that all the hours and hours of training in the studio really pay off when you are able to just let go on stage and let your heart and muscle memory take over.
After performing twice at the Kennedy Center I knew I wanted to do it again and as many times as I possibly could, so the next year I tried out for ABT's (American Ballet Theater) Nutcracker and thankfully got the part. It was hands down one of the most amazing experiences, I not only got to perform with my dream company at the Kennedy Center, but I also got to meet all of my idols and see what their lives were like. The next year I was in Ballet West's Nutcracker which was a similar experience because as one of the youngest in their production it was cool to dance with the company and talk with the dancers about their journeys to becoming professionals. This year I have joined a company called Connect the Dots, it helps to spread dance education throughout the DC area to those who may not be able to afford it. The company puts on a Nutcracker for local hospitals and autistic schools; I will be performing the role of Clara and am extremely excited to see what this new experience brings. I think it is always important to give back because ballet is my passion and I hope to help others have the opportunity to find their passion whether it be dance or not.
I was placed in my first dance class before I can even remember. Within only a couple of baby ballerina classes, I knew I had found my lifelong passion. About the same time I started taking ballet class, my parent's signed me up for ski lessons. Ironically, I wouldn't go skiing without a tutu on. I think that's when everyone else knew I was dedicated. Granted, I was around two years old so I'm sure they thought the attachment would be short lived. You can never be sure until you're about five, because that's around the time many find other interests. All of my friends played soccer and lacrosse and tennis, but I could never find myself ever wanting to give up dance. Up until about fifth grade, a cloud of embarrassment hung over my head about being a dancer. I was so afraid of all the stereotyping associated with being a dancer. I was afraid I'd be seen as weak or lesser than. All of the "popular" girls tended to gravitate towards lacrosse and soccer. To be completely honest, it sucked. I was in a constant between following my passion or fitting in.
That all changed in sixth grade when I was casted as Clara in "The Nutcracker". All of the sudden, everyone respected me, but more importantly, I began to respect the decision I had made so early in my life to pursue dance. I also attended my first summer intensive that summer at the Houston Ballet. The first two days were probably some of the most physically demanding day I've ever experienced. I wasn't prepared. As the first week progressed, I began to adapt to the demanding and highly competitive atmosphere, and by the end of the intensive, I was a completely different human and dancer.
My seventh grade year was the year that I decided that I was going to become a professional dancer. That following summer, I spent five weeks in New York dancing at The American Ballet Theatre's Summer Intensive Program. That was also an experience I could never dream about replacing. I witnessed so much in my time there, and again, I left a summer intensive program as an entirely different human.
As eighth grade started, I was stressed and scared about the high school process. I valued dance so much, and it was (and still is) such a major part of my life, that I couldn't imagine ever giving it up. I also equally valued my academics and education, so finding a school that would accommodate for both of those things was a challenge.
Eventually, I found it. I went though the typical admissions process whilst also auditioning for the small company that's affiliated with the school. It has turned out to be perfect for continuing both my academic and dance studies. I am actually dancing more than I ever did at my old studio.
I guess if I have any "words of wisdom" or advice for you, it'd be to never let go of something you're passionate about. As cliché as that sounds, and I know you have all heard it hundreds of times, it is so important. I am finding more and more that as we all age, we lose sight of what is most important to us and what we find the greatest joy in.
My name is Alexandra Lawrence, and I am eleven years old. I started dancing at three years old, after seeing the Nutcracker. I used to dance at the Y and then moved to CSB (which is a more professional studio) at the age of four. I started training with the Royal Academy of Dance methods while taking the exams each year.
In second grade, I was asked to do the Nutcracker and I played a mouse. I have been doing the Nutcracker ever since. In 2008 I did the regular Nutcracker, and the Moscow Ballet Nutcracker. I was a snowflake, and I played many other roles in the show. In 2008, I was also asked to do the spring show at my dance school. I started taking Cecchetti exams in 2011 and accomplished highly, commended grades. So far this year, I have recently taken my grade 5 exam, Cecchetti 3 exam, and I have earned my pointe shoes. I also do tap, jazz, character, and modern. In addition, I am also in the Trainee Company at my studio.
My goals in dance are; to have a solo in a performance, compete in YAGP, and compete in the American Ballet Competition. I am working very hard, to audition for summer ballet intensives. I hope to share my love of ballet with as many people as possible and I hope to have many more opportunities to be onstage.
Hi dancers! My name is Jennifer Payne. I am a member of the Denver Academy of Ballet, and am twelve years old. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, and I was put into ballet classes at the age of three. Oddly enough, I hated going to dance. I would try to find every way possible to not go. As the youngest of five children, there was a lot of responsibility laid on me, so a couple of times I could wiggle my way out by "forgetting.” Once we moved to Denver, when I was eight, I really started to find my groove for dancing at DAB. This studio has really shaped me as a dancer, and I never want to miss a class.
At a young age the director of our studio, Rob Kuykendall, found talent in me. I moved up through the levels very quickly, losing so many friends my age. I am now in the highest level, and the maturity from such a big family has shown through. I have made friends with 14-18 year old classmates. Now this may sound all fun and games, but I am finding myself struggling in many areas. Where I may be mature mentally, I realize I lack maturity physically. For example, I can barely do eight fouettés en pointe. I have noticed that I use my flexibility as my strength, and am working very hard on building strength.
I also go to a very challenging academic school named Kent Denver. The homework load consists of multiple hours. I have about one hour after school to do my homework, and then go straight to dance. I get home at around nine. I leave a very slim window for imperfections and end up working until 11 or 11:30 pm. This cycle continues every night of the week. I barely ever hang with school friends, or get a real teenager life. But it is all worth it, and I would much rather be in a studio than at a friend’s house.
I hope you enjoyed learning about my dance life, and best of wishes.