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By Christina Leach Phillips
Clay Today
May 03, 2012

When Paul Piner was 7 years old, he used to stand in the doorway of the Clay Academy of Dance Arts in Green Cove Springs and watch his older sister, Bailey, take ballet lessons.  As he watched the dancers, Paul would try to imitate what they were doing. He wanted to join in, but he didn’t see any other boys in the class. One day, the studio’s director, Suzanne Tudor, invited Paul to join the class, and he has been hooked on ballet ever since.

Paul, now age 10, was recently accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Dance Intensive program, and for six weeks this summer, he will go to Middlebury, Conn., and train with the Master Teachers from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

“The Bolshoi Ballet is unequivocally the most famous and the oldest ballet company in the world,” said Tudor. “Ballet companies globally try to train their dancers in this pure classical Russian style. It is very difficult to make it into this school, and only the most talented ballet dancers in the world make this cut.”

Paul auditioned for the Bolshoi Ballet in Orlando. He said, “I was a little nervous, but I knew that I would do pretty well. My mom is always telling me that I’m such a great dancer, and I need to stick to it, so I listened to what she was saying, and they accepted me.”

Paul’s mother, Sarah Piner, said that the auditions were intimidating for Paul and his sister, Bailey, 11, who also tried out, because there were a lot of older, more experienced dancers, and the instructors spoke in Russian. But Piner didn’t need to worry because when Paul came out of the one and one half hour audition, he told her, “Mom, it was easy. I nailed it.”

Piner was surprised by his response because she said, “He’s usually very soft spoken and doesn’t brag.” But two weeks later, Paul received an acceptance letter from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy offering him a spot in the summer program.

Paul takes classical ballet, tap and jazz classes at the Clay Academy of Dance Arts, as well as ballet lessons with the Florida Ballet. With a dance schedule of five days a week, Paul stays busy with an activity that he said he loves.

Tudor, who has taught Paul for about three years, said, “Paul is a good listener; he takes correction well; and he is very physically coordinated. Ballet comes easy to him. He is extremely bright and very talented.”

Paul has danced in the Nutcracker Ballet both in Clay County and with the Florida Ballet. “I was the rat king, a bon bon, and an angel,” he said.

In the December Clay County Nutcracker, Paul held the lead role of Fritz, the mischievous brother of Clara — a part he had aspired to since he first started dancing.

Paul’s entire family has been involved in the Nutcracker Ballet, including Bailey, little brother, Benny, 6, Mom, Sarah, and Dad, Jim. His parents played the roles of party guests, and his mom was Mother Ginger.

Paul, a 5th grader at Paterson Elementary, also likes to wrestle, swim, and sing in Chorus. “He’s a pretty active kid,” said his mom.

Before he was accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet program, Paul had decided to play Pop Warner Football this summer, but now those plans will have to be put on hold as he pursues his love of dance. His mother told him, “You’ve got to follow your own path, and if dancing makes you happy, then dance.”

To prepare for the summer program, Paul has been watching YouTube videos of Russian dancers. “The most fun will be learning the Russian culture and what they do over in Russia,” said Paul. “They said they are going to have Russian classes, and, hopefully, I’ll get to learn a different language, and I’ll meet some new people.”

Paul seems to take it all in stride, but Tudor said she is very proud of her young student. “He is so young to have such a promising future in the world of professional dance,” she said. “If I had to use one word for him, I would say he is ‘stellar.’ He is destined to go to great places.”

Copyright 2012 Clay Today Newspapers

Related Article: Holliston Dancing Arts Center Student to study with Bolshoi Ballet Academy

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