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By Jordon Culver
The Tallahassee Democrat
June 4, 2012

Benjamin Kay is going pro straight out of high school. The 17-year-old Lincoln High graduate isn’t signing a multimillion-dollar contract just yet, but he’ll see the fruits of his labor pretty soon.

Kay is a local ballet dancer who will soon take a giant leap to North Carolina. He said he has no intentions of putting his dreams on hold, and wants to begin his professional career as soon as possible. Which means the North Carolina Dance Theatre will soon have one of the city’s finest young talents at its disposal.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “I guess this doesn’t happen very often , so I was thrilled when I heard I was accepted. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.”

One of 420 students who graduated from Lincoln last week, Kay is the only one headed for a professional career as a ballet dancer. The achievement has not come without effort — lots and lots of it.

“Labor” might not be a strong enough word for the work Kay has put in. For 10 years he has gone through six practices Monday through Friday. He has rehearsals Saturday and Sunday. He’s done intensive summer workouts. Kay said what he does is so much more than a 30-minute workout once a week. Unlike a typical teenager fresh out of high school, Kay said he doesn’t have free time. He doesn’t even want it – free time could get in the way of his dancing.

“I’ve done this my whole life,” he said. “It’s something that I love so much. You really have to commit to this if you want it, and it’s something I’ve always wanted.”

Mike Kay, Benjamin’s father, said he and his wife, Sue, are “immensely proud” of their son. He added there was a little apprehension about him moving away at such a young age, but he knows Ben has a limited time to perform the way he wants to.

“We knew he had two choices: Either go to college and study dance or go start a professional career,” he said. “Either was going to be a bit of a gamble for him.”

Rick McCullough, artistic director at the Tallahassee Ballet, said Kay’s path isn’t all that unusual. He said about 80 to 90 percent of dancers get their professional beginning right out of high school. Dancing, he said, is a lot like athletics. Performers want to be contracted at their physical peak and that requires an early start.

McCullough said he started straight out of high school and went back to college in his 40s after his dancing career ended. He said Kay stands to make roughly $35,000 a year as an apprentice, possibly another $5,000 to $10,000 if he can get additional summer gigs.

He said about one or two dancers per year come out of Tallahassee and pursue larger markets.

“In a company like North Carolina Dance Theatre, people are contracted for about 38 weeks,” he said. “It all depends on the demographics though. City ballet companies can provide 48-week contracts.”

Kay will be joining the North Carolina Dance Company as an apprentice after he impressed executive director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux during a summer workshop at the Chautauqua Institute in New York, McCullough said.

Stepping away from Tallahassee means leaving behind near-universal acclaim for Kay. Teachers, directors, parents and viewers within the city have already showered him with plenty of praise. Aurora Hansen, who was Kay’s teacher since he was 7 years old, said talking about him nearly brings her to tears.

Hansen said she started teaching Kay after she saw potential in him following a jazz class. Kay’s mother and sister were already enrolled in her dancing classes and Hansen said he became absorbed in the lessons.

She added she’s had many students and plenty of success stories, but Kay is “near and dear” to her heart. “He advanced so fast and he worked so hard,” she said. “He was also very creative and always dependable. He could see my vision about the dances and what I wanted to create.”

It’s tough to think Kay won’t ever contact his first teacher again, though. Hansen said the only time Kay didn’t show up to class was when he was out-of-state. Even when he was in places like California or North Carolina, he still found the time to send Hansen a Facebook message about what he was learning.

McCullough said he’s worked with Kay for about five years. He said dedication combined with “physical gifts any dancer needs” are what gives Kay an edge over other dancers.

He added watching Kay grow from an “awkward” middle-schooler to a “competent and confident” advance dancer has been a joy. “He’s very motivated and intelligent,” McCullough said. “He’s made enormous strides on his own and he’s devoted himself to it.”

Hansen said support from home is another part of the reason Kay is so successful. “His mom, his dad, his whole family supported him all the way through,” she said. “My husband and children are all very proud of him. There are a lot of people in Tallahassee who are very proud of him.”

North Carolina is just the first step in a professional career, Kay said. He said eventually he wants to become a teacher.

span style=”font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 12pt;”>“There’s no expiration date for dancers,” he said. “I just want to dance for as long as I can.”

Copyright © 2012

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