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By Judy Downing, Reporter, Highland Community News

October 16, 2008


Editor’s Note: Matthew Leonardi was a recent guest at the Kiwanis Club of Highland morning club, prompting this story.


Matthew Leonardi, a San Bernardino 14-year-old, was born to dance. This summer the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy sent him a rare invitation to pursue full-time training in Moscow with some of the finest teachers in the world.

Matthew was first exposed to ballet as a 3-year-old. He wanted to be with his sister, who was attending a class. The teacher had him try a few positions. “It just felt right,” said Matthew. He has been dancing ever since.

“Matthew really, really understands the concept of movement. He is very adaptable and he is able to do contemporary and classical. He is very, very gifted at both.” said Cecilia Hering, creative director and instructor at the School of International Ballet in Redlands.

During the past 11 years, Matthew has appeared in numerous performances of the Nutcracker. He currently spends three hours a day six days a week perfecting his skills and technique.

When asked how he felt when dancing, Matthew said, “You can show your own emotions and expressions. Once you travel outwards, you’re free.” He loves the jumps because they add the spice.


Matthew impressed a group of football players who attended his school for training. They were surprised at his speed. “The coach made them do pushups, as Matthew does for daily training,” said his mother, “They were surprised that he could do more pushups than they could.”

Matthew won third place at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) in Huntington Beach and was invited to attend the YAGP in New York in April. “It was superb,” said Matthew, “I saw great dancing from all over the world.”

His exceptional talent and dedication led to an invitation to attend the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive held in Connecticut. Two weeks after the intensive, Matthew received the invitation to study in Moscow.

It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Matthew, “I can’t wait! I’m really excited!”

The Bolshoi wants Matthew to start Nov. 1. He will start with three months of Russian immersion and will then take all of his classes in Russian, eventually receiving the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

Valerie Leonardi is determined that Matthew will be able to attend the Bolshoi. As a single mother of 4, she isn’t sure how to pay the $18,000 per year that includes tuition and room and board. Matthew is too young for student loans and the agencies she has contacted don’t have money available at this time of year.

She hopes to find a local sponsor who will help Matthew realize his full potential.

Contributions to Matthew’s scholarship fund can be made to Matthew Leonardi, P.O. Box 2093, San Bernardino, CA 92406.
Valerie Leonardi can be reached at (909) 886-3749 or 


Copyright © 2008 Highland Community News

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