By Jani Gonzalez
Coeur d’Alene Living Local
March 1, 2015
[Coeur d’Arlene, Idaho, USA] – Dancing ballet is not likely to cross the mind of many teenage boys, but for Isaac Sanders, 16, it was the art form he fell in love with at the early age of 8.
“I fell in love with performing immediately and ever since,” Isaac explained while on break at Ballet Coeur d’Alene’s studio. “I hadn’t really seen men dance so gracefully before.”
Isaac, who is homeschooled, spends eight-hour days at the studio stretching and rehearsing a series of dance sequences done to a dramatic classical piano recording. He also teaches a class to boys and adults on some evenings. “I dance, I sleep and I eat,” he said. “And school – I do that too.”
In his short dancing career, he’s placed high in several dance competitions. Most recently, he won first place at the Youth Grand Prix (YAGP) in the contemporary category and third in the classical category. He was the youngest dancer in the senior division, which includes ages 15 to 19 years.
“When I first performed, it was a great challenge. It keeps you readying for something more,” he said. “I love performing. It’s the best way to express myself.”
Isaac started dancing as a way to pass the time while his sister took lessons. When his sister quit, he kept on with the classes until the school closed. It was then, at the age of 10, that Isaac decided to seriously study ballet. He auditioned for the Kirov Russian Ballet School’s summer program in Pocatello.
“It was a short three-week program, but I loved it and decided to continue, so I enrolled in a year-round program,” he said.
His teachers also recognized his talent and told his parents about his potential. Isaac’s decision coincided with his father’s graduation from pharmacy school, and the family was preparing to move to north Idaho. When a ballet school close to family didn’t work out, his parents made the difficult decision to let then 11-year-old Isaac stay in Pocatello and live with church friends. It was a decision that lasted until last summer when Isaac finally returned home though he visited his family monthly.
“At first, it was very difficult, but then it was not so bad,” Isaac said about living away from home.
Things picked up fast for Isaac in the world of ballet. In the fall of 2011, he entered his first ballet competition, called the YAGP, where he placed among the top 12 in the junior category. “That was really thrilling because I had just started dancing,” he said.
The next summer, he received third place in the classical category and went on to the finals in New York City where he was awarded a scholarship to the Bolshoi Summer Intensive Program. It is a six week Russian ballet camp where he studied classical ballet, stretch and strength, modern ballet and ballet history. The stint landed him an invitation at the Bolshoi’s main campus in Moscow, Russia, where he had to raise $25,000 to attend the school for one year.
“It was the best and most difficult year of my life, living away from home. I was there an entire semester before I could visit,” he said. “In Moscow, I was completely cut off.”
The training was more serious and stricter than the programs he had attended in the U.S. He was completely immersed in the Russian language and culture, practicing with an elite group of dancers handpicked from around the world. Isaac was just one of six Americans invited to attend the school.
He returned home last summer to live with his family for the first time in four years. He began studying at Ballet Coeur d’Alene under the direction of Brooke Nicholson. Like all of his other decisions, this one too was based on advancing in the study of ballet. This time, it was to make the transition from student to professional dancer.
“He’s very musical as a dancer with lots of power and strength,” Ms. Nicholson said of Isaac.
The ballet world may be a beautiful one, but it is extremely competitive, and Ms. Nicholson constantly reminds her students of that. “You have to keep [students] hungry for that. There’s always someone who can dance better or jump higher,” she said. “Not everyone will like you in the working world. Not everyone will need someone with your looks.”
Even though male dancers, called “ballerinos,” are a minority in the U.S., that isn’t the case worldwide, she said. Isaac seems to know the work that lies ahead of him. “I originally only trained in the Russian style, but I need to dance like an American because I want to dance here,” he said.
Isaac studies ballet as part of a pre-professional program with the goal of obtaining a position at a ballet company. He spends his days dancing with three other ballet students, all of them girls.
Asked if he ever received negativity for choosing such a female-dominated terrain, he replied, “At first, people are a little shocked, especially because I’m male and because of my age. But almost every friend I’ve had is [impressed] because of how much discipline it takes. Also, I’m with girls,” he said with a shy grin.
© 2015 Coeur d’Alene Living Local
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