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Category Archives: Best of 2008

The boys have choosen 26 of the 49 articles posted in 2008 to be included in the Best of 2008

Stephanie Lyons Schultz Contributing Writer
Stamford Advocate             
December 11, 2008


At age 6, Southbury resident Roddy Doble started dancing, however he initially viewed it as most boys will — as something only girls do.

But by about age 10, he became what he called “serious,” having decided then that it was not only his current passion, but would unquestionably be his future. “I really knew at that point,” he said.

Quite a precursor for what was to come”¦

Today, Doble, 19, is the youngest dancer of approximately 50 in the American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) corps de ballet, and among the 80 who make up the full company. Forever inspired by the one and only Mikhail Baryshnikov, Doble has accomplished feats of which most can only dream.

“They select from anyone in the world,” Doble said. “And just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone walks in (the room) with unbelievable talent. That can be hard, but I am grateful — it makes me a better dancer.”

At age 15, after working with teacher Arlene Begelman, owner of New Milford’s School of Performing Arts (SOPA), Doble was seen by someone from ABT.

“Arlene arranged to have me observed by artistic director John Meehan, of (ABT’s) second company. I was too young at the time (age 15), but they kept tabs on me. I was very lucky — they were very interested in me.”

Doble attended ABT’s summer program on a full scholarship, and continued to take classes with ABT every few months. Then, Doble received a call he’d never forget.

“(ABT) called me out of the blue,” he said. “They wanted me to fill in for a dancer with the second company — I got a two-week contract…” The contract was to perform in California in 21 “Nutcracker” productions. “For me, it was really a chance of a lifetime.”

Doble’s mother, Beth Doble, couldn’t have been prouder. “It was an incredible moment — I remember the night they called,” she said. “It was hard — I have a fear of flying. I’d never missed him dancing in anything. I thought, ‘Why did it have to be in California?’ But (I was) thrilled — and I let him go.”

“It was great,” Doble said. “It was surreal to be with dancers of that caliber. It really pushed me. (And) the experience changed me.” When he returned, he felt he couldn’t go back to dancing at a smaller school — he then needed to make a professional decision.

Attending the School of American Ballet, affiliated with the New York City Ballet, was to follow; an opportunity he’d always wanted to experience. However, Doble said, “It reinforced the feeling that I was an ABT dancer. That felt like home for me. It was just a better fit.”

Following a second summer program with ABT, at age 16, Doble was offered a contract with their second company. “It was an incredible relief. I was one of very few lucky ones.”

And after proving himself with the second company for just over a year, Doble was taken into the main company where he has now been for a year.

“It was obvious from an early point that there was passion there,” said Beth Doble. “He went above and beyond — there was something different (about him).

“He was very athletic — he could do anything and he was good at it,” she went on. “But dance took over his life by age 9 or 10. He was always above average with his peers in maturity, very focused.”

Although Doble excelled in a number of town sports, he quit them all for dance.

And he also faced social difficulties throughout his school years. “As a public school student — dance doesn’t really go over that well with your peers,” he explained. He left high school in his freshman year to be home-schooled.

“I related to the athleticism of dance,” he said. “Dance was really my outlet for expression — and I related to the artistry. It requires the athleticism and energy of any sport; any sports star is an equal athlete. But it is something about the artistry (of dance) which sets it apart.

“What’s neat that I find about male dancers is that almost everyone has some interesting story,” he went on. “It is not viewed as acceptable for boys to do ballet. But (I think) most people have not seen really good dance. Not seen the physicality. People think dance is effeminate, weak — but it is just the opposite. You have to be even more masculine, even stronger.”

The only male dancer while at SOPA, Doble had little opportunity to see others. Instead he would watch tapes of Baryshnikov over and over, pausing frame by frame, analyzing each step. “I would push myself too far — I saw (him as) perfect — and thought, ‘This is how I have to be.’ “

Years later, Doble was to have an unforgettable experience while with the School of American Ballet. One day, when he was the only one in class, someone else walked into the room.

“I looked up and saw him (Baryshnikov),” Doble said. “We looked at each other, gave a nod, then started stretching. I was somewhat used to (seeing stars) — but he was somebody special. He had such an impact on me — he was so inspiring for me.”

Dance has always been and continues to be all-consuming for Doble, but he has no regrets for what he might have given up. And he considers himself very fortunate. “Most dancers have to move away from home (for high-caliber training),” he said. “But I found SOPA — it helped prepare me.”

Now, still living at home, he commutes to New York. “I never had to leave my family to pursue what I love.”

“And I am extremely lucky to have a career which is also my passion,” Doble said. “Very few people are fortunate enough to make that happen. I try to be the best I can be at it.”

Doble reaches out for other experiences beyond dance to enhance his artistry. “The more exposed you are, the more you bring to dance,” he said. “So much of dance is emotion — you are naked on the stage in a sense, you are opening up. The more you have, the better people relate to you — they leave the theatre feeling different. That’s what any art is always supposed to do.

“Technically, I am a strong guy with a big jump. I can do a lot of pirouettes,” he went on. “But that is superficial — I mean, it’s great if you can do it. But for me, while I love to do that, it is the passion that sets it apart. People relate to my dancing on a very human level. It is not pretentious. I enjoy what I do — and people enjoy seeing it.”


© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc

By Deanna Truman
Iowa City Press-Citizen
July 5th, 2008


Alex Ko, 12, 2008 


A lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to see New York. Alex Ko , 12, is dancing there.  The Iowa City youth is dancing with Steps on Broadway Sunday through Aug. 17.  The Northwest junior high seventh-grader won a scholarship to Steps, a prestigious New York Dance school. He’ll be taking four ballet classes a day as well as a couple of jazz lessons.

“It is exciting,” said Alex , of the trip days before leaving.

In addition to dancing, he was hoping to take in a Broadway show or two.

Alex has been dancing since a young child. “He was dancing around the house since he was 4,” said Tammie Cumming- Ko , Alex ‘s mom.

Because her sister was a professional ballet dancer, Cumming- Ko thought her kids might get the dancing bug as well. She enrolled Alex at age 4. At first, he wasn’t too impressed: He chose to sit on his hands instead of dance. But by age 5, dancing had become a passion. It is not uncommon for him to practice 20 hours or more a week.

His determination is rare, said Eloy Barragan, assistant dance professor at the University of Iowa. “Iowa City has a lot of talent, a young talent, but Alex has something very unique, he has maturity and dedication and is committed to what he wants,” Barragan said.

That dedication led to Ko taking classes June 5-16 at Steps on Broadway. Liking his style and technique, the school offered him a scholarship to come back in July and August. They weren’t the only ones. He was also offered other scholarships.

His dancing also attracted a talent manager.

Alex is hopeful that classes could lead to something more. He would jump at the chance to be in a Broadway production.

As to what attracts Alex to dance, he says it is the creative freedom. “You can do whatever you want, there’s not just one certain thing,” Alex said. “It’s free.” Barragan wholeheartedly agreed. “Ballet is fun,” he said. “It has a stereotype that it is long and structured. It is beautiful.”

Currently, Alex dances and takes lessons at City Ballet of Iowa, whose current headquarters are at Old Brick.

He met Sarah Barragan at the University of Iowa Youth Ballet, where he previously took classes, and where she served as artistic director.  Seeing his talent, Sarah Barragan encouraged her husband, Eloy Barragan, to take Alex under his wing.

The two immediately began working on a solo. Alex credits the piece for helping him work through his father Sam Ko ‘s death June 10, 2007. Through the solo the two became extremely close. In fact, they refer to each other as family.

When the Barragans chose to open City Ballet of Iowa a few months ago, it was an easy decision to follow, Cumming- Ko said.

In addition to this determination, what sets Alex apart from others is his stage presence, Eloy Barragan said. “Alex has something really special,” Barragan said. “There’s a soul to his dance and that is what people notice.”


© Copyright 2008 Iowa City Press-Citizen

Under communism, ballet students were driven to achieve international fame for the glory of the state. In Putin’s Russia, nothing has changed. Alastair Gee investigates the post-Soviet machine.



August 10, 2008


Photographs: Rachel Papo






Zhenya Ganeyev is marooned on a sofa bed in the corner of his St Petersburg living room. A narrow, sinewy 15-year-old, he has been forbidden by doctors to walk since early June. So the ballet student rests on an elbow tucked behind his head, a position that seems to verge on contortionism but is not uncomfortable for him, and occasionally curls his long feet into the en pointe position. His schoolteachers, who have a distinctive take on such issues, are pleased about his injury.

Ganeyev is enrolled at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg, perhaps the most famous ballet school in the world. He suffered a compressed spinal fracture while lifting a partner. But he was thought by instructors to be too short, and they hope the bed rest will give him a chance to grow. If he doesn’t, he may not have much of a future at the academy. No matter how talented, dancers of the wrong height, weight or shape are expelled. Standards have not slipped in the age of Putin – though many young Russians these days turn away from the classical tradition.

The US-born Israeli photographer Rachel Papo spent five weeks photographing students at Vaganova and at the Mariinsky Theatre, where pupils perform after school. Papo herself studied ballet between the ages of 5 and 14 in Haifa, although she left after realising that she was less able than some of her classmates. She saw similar frustrations at Vaganova. “I was heartbroken the whole time I was there,” she says. “When they graduate, only very few will make it.”


          vaganova-ballet-academy-alexander-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-ilya-backstage-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-batyr-2007-by-rachel-papo   

         vaganova-ballet-academy-two-2nd-class-boys-vlad-and-vadim-2007    vaganova-ballet-academy-two-3rd-class-boys-denis-and-kostia-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-yana-backstage-2007


But how has the Soviet-era ballet system fared in the gaudy, wealth-obsessed new Russia? Boris Akimov, a former artistic director at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and now a senior coach there, suggests it can weather anything. “Whatever the historical event – perestroika, the Soviet collapse – ballet is never touched.” Vaganova isn’t stuck in the past, however, despite its adherence to a notoriously strict training technique developed by the ballet dancer Agrippina Vaganova after the 1917 revolution and copied worldwide. As Soviet habits decline and Russia becomes richer, the school’s character and demographics are changing.

Vaganova occupies a colonnaded yellow building in a picturesque part of town, surrounded by titanic neoclassical and neogothic structures that enclose delicate parks. The school has been here since 1836, and is undergoing a £15m restoration as city coffers benefit from Russia’s soaring oil and gas profits. Laminate has replaced battered wood floors, and the changing rooms are fitted with handsome lockers, while boarders, about half the student body, have a computer suite and sleep two to a room (at Russian universities, four or more may share). vaganova-ballet-academy-1st-class-boys-2007

Students enrol at the age of 10, after a multi-hour exam that tests their ballet technique, rhythm and health. Five years ago, there were about 100 applicants for each place. Today, there are about 20, and there’s a specially steep decline in the number of boys applying. A contributing factor is parents’ awareness of the unremarkable salaries earned by most dancers other than soloists. “I live in a dormitory,” sighs Anna Lavrinenko, 21, a gentle, slightly built Vaganova graduate and a mid-ranking Mariinsky dancer. “The wages are enough to live on, but not enough to buy somewhere of your own.”

The Vaganova style fuses elements of the Russian, French and Italian ballet schools, and the academy produces dancers who move their upper bodies particularly well. The teaching is codified and precise – rivals at the Bolshoi school in Moscow suggest that St Petersburg dancers are overly focused on technical details. A quirk of the system is that beginners write essays on steps they have learnt, describing which muscles are used and how their bodies should move. They also write analyses of their mistakes.

Classes for Vaganova’s 350 or so students begin at 9am and continue till 6pm – or till 11pm and later if students are performing at the Mariinsky. Younger students have two hours of classical dance per day and five to six hours of academic lessons; older students have four to six hours of classical dance and fewer academic lessons. Historical, modern and character dances are also fitted in. It’s a six-day week, and the day off, Sunday, may be taken up by rehearsals. “You sometimes feel like you’ll die of tiredness,” says Aleksei Popov, 18.




While some teachers are miserly with praise, cruel behaviour, like that of a notorious teacher who enjoyed telling students they were worthless, has all but vanished. Younger, mellower instructors have been employed (and even getting inside the tightly guarded building has become easier). Still, the atmosphere is hyper-competitive. Students battle for favour and roles at the Mariinsky. “I don’t have any real friends at the academy,” says Popov. “On stage, they’re rivals.”

And there’s an ever-present risk of expulsion. Dancers are weighed two to three times a year and before exams, and girls who don’t keep their weight below 50 kilograms are considered too heavy for boys to lift; they lose marks in exams and, if they don’t slim down, will have to leave. “Practically everyone in my class diets,” says Alexandra Somova, 16. “Most of all, they don’t eat sweets, then things made of wheat.” Cases of anorexia, however, are said to occur only once every few years.

A girl’s legs, meanwhile, should be at least half her height, a rule that inspires bizarre exercises, according to Elena Apakova, an English teacher at the school. “Sometimes they attach heavy things to their feet and hang from bars. Swimming with flippers helps. And they stretch most of the time. I allow students to sit stretching on the floor rather than at their desks.”

All this, together with near-unattainable standards, contributes to a high attrition rate. Of the 50 students who enrol in the first year, 40-80% might not graduate. This year, there were 30 graduates. In 2009, there will be only 12. Of all the boys Popov enrolled with in the first year, he is the only one left.

These photographs will be on show at the ClampArt Gallery, New York ( ), from February 12 to March 14, 2009;



Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Kelly-Anne Reiss, Leader-Post

Published: Saturday, May 03, 2008


REGINA — While many Canadian boys grow up dreaming about being NHL hockey players, there are those who have different aspirations. Some want to dance on stage, surrounded by beautiful women.   

Graham Kotowich is one of those rare boys.  

At Class Act Studios in Regina, Kotowich and three other boys were the only males taking ballet in the ’90s. All of them were aware of the stereotypes they would face, which is why some of them told their schoolmates they were soccer players instead of dancers. But Kotowich wasn’t one to lie and so faced his share of teasing.

In gym class, Kotowich got his revenge, lifting the heaviest of weights for as many reps as the other boys dared him to do.Despite being strong and athletic, Kotowich never volunteered to dance at school talent shows, as he knew a bunch of high school jocks wouldn’t appreciate what he did.

If Kotowich had succumbed to peer pressure, he would never be where he is today — touring Britain with one of the U.K.’s favourite dance companies — the Northern Ballet Theatre.

Becoming a professional ballet dancer wasn’t easy for Kotowich. It was just as gruelling as becoming a professional hockey player.  Kotowich had to be committed. Every day after school, he would go home, do his homework and then eat his supper in the car on the way to the dance studio. He would practise until 10 p.m. each night. The next morning, in school, he could barely keep his eyes open.

“I have yet to be as tired as I was in high school,” said Kotowich, who now dances up to 12 hours a day.

There isn’t much room for a life outside of dance. Most of Kotowich’s friends, and the girls he’s dated, are all dancers.  

Before dance took over, Kotowich was on the basketball team in elementary school, and played the saxophone and the flute in the band. He was also a competitive diver and a talented baseball pitcher. In fact, his father, Rick, thinks if Kotowich had stuck with baseball instead, he might have been able to make a career of that.

But Kotowich had to make a choice. Did he go to the baseball game or did he go to the dance rehearsal for an upcoming recital? Kotowich followed his heart and chose dance. “He felt bad about letting down his ball team,” said his father.  

Despite all the hours in the studio, it could have been all for nothing. His dreams could have quickly been dashed, like many, who dream of going pro. Rick recalls how nervous Kotowich was trying out for professional companies, such as the National Ballet of Canada.

Kotowich, 20, knew there was a chance he wasn’t going to make the cut. England’s Northern Ballet Theatre was his first choice.

Although he likely could have had a job with the National Ballet in Canada, Kotowich had fallen in love with England’s rolling hills after attending the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London on a full-scholarship in 2005. While at the Royal Ballet School, Kotowich performed for Prince Charles, the school’s president, at Buckingham Palace.

“You don’t even realize what you’re doing until you walk in the door of the palace and you see this huge marble staircase just leading up with red velvet carpeting and gold scenery and statues everywhere, and huge canvas paintings of years and years of royalty It was a night to remember, that’s for sure,” said Kotowich, who had been invited to audition for the school, beating out many talented dancers from around the world for his spot in the academy.

But although Kotowich felt he had made the big leagues, his scholarship wasn’t renewed the following year. He wasn’t given a reason why.Disappointed, Kotowich returned to Canada and continued his training in Toronto at the National Ballet School of Canada, another world-renowned dance academy.

Despite all his accomplishments, Kotowich, who is Metis, only told people very generally that he was going to school in Toronto; he never mentioned he was dancing at NBS.

When he completed his studies there, he had plans to audition in several European countries, but didn’t have to in the end, as the Northern Ballet Theatre called him first.

Andorlie Hillstrom, the owner and founder of Class Act Studios, isn’t surprised to hear of Kotowich’s success. “I’m really proud of him,” she said.  

Kotowich has kept in touch with her, coming back to Regina in December to perform in West Side Story for the studio’s 15th anniversary celebration, which featured a number of the school’s alumni who have gone on to professional careers in musical theatre, jazz and tap. Kotowich is the only student who has become a professional classical ballet dancer.

While Hillstrom said she’s had plenty of talented ballet dancers come through, not everyone was cut out for the tough life. Ballet dancers have to push their bodies to extremes, are on the road all the time, and are poorly paid for what they do, especially when starting out.  

Money is a concern for Kotowich, who has taken out student loans to pay for some of his dance lessons. But whatever the price, dance is worth it to Kotowich, who loves to travel.

And at the age of 12, Kotowich learned to live on his own while taking a six-week dance training program at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

If his parents wanted, Kotowich could have moved to Toronto by himself at the age of 10 to train at the National Ballet School of Canada. But his mother, Pat, wanted to keep Kotowich at home for as long as she could.

Pat recalls meeting one of Kotowich’s girlfriends who grew up in the ballet residences as a child. She had a picture on the door of her and her roommates from when they were quite young.  “They grew up together,” said Pat of the girls. “They seemed like such little orphans, but very proper-like.”

At home in Saskatchewan, Kotowich was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher — Ana Maria Campos, who is originally from Brazil.Campos helped push her students to achieve professional standards and gave her students the opportunity to travel with her down to South America, introducing them to one of her friends who had a dance studio that was free to underprivileged youths. Kotowich observed that the children worked hard there to get ahead, because dance was their ticket to a new life.

Inspired by this work ethic, Kotowich pushed his own limits harder. His goal in life is to be the best dancer he can be, although he knows there will come a time in his life when he can’t dance anymore.  

Like all athletes, one day his body will just give out. When this happens, Kotowich thinks he might explore the business side of dance. Although he’s not sure what exactly that will entail yet.

Currently, Kotowich is in top physical form and has never felt better. But this wasn’t always so.As a teenager, rapid growth caused Kotowich some knee pain. His mother recalls how he walked down the stairs of the studio like an old man, but he was able to push past these growing pains.  

“From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer,” he said. “It’s a beautiful art form.”

Kotowich got into dance after having tagged along with his sisters to their dance classes. He started out in tap and jazz at the age of seven, but he wanted to switch to ballet when he saw that ballet dancers had nicer shoes.

While he had the talent, he also needed the looks. Lucky for Kotowich, he won the genetic lottery and had the right build. As a dancer, one’s body has to be well-proportioned. One’s neck can’t be too short or too wide. And leg muscles can’t be bulging when they’re not flexed. It is for this reason Hillstrom often compares ballet dancers to race horses.

Ballet is one of the few professions where one is required to put age, weight and height on his or her resume.

Kotowich is lucky, because he can eat as many calories as he wants and will burn them off. This isn’t the case for all dancers. Some have to carefully watch how much they eat.

It was around supper time in Regina, on April 20, when Kotowich moved to Britain to start his professional dance career. His mother and father said their goodbyes on the phone to Kotowich, who was in Toronto.

His father advised him to read some Shakespeare on the plane, because Shakespearean ballet is the focus of the Northern Ballet Theatre.

“It would be a lot harder if we didn’t have e-mail or if the long distance rates aren’t as good as they are now,” said Rick.

Both he and Pat are happy for the opportunities their son has had, even though it meant a lot of sacrifice on their part, such as paying for lessons and driving back and forth from the studio.

Sometimes Rick wasn’t aware of how talented his son was.He remembered one time when his son was at a dance competition in Moose Jaw, “he was on stage just hopping around.”

Rick sat in the audience watching dancers he thought were better and tried to figure out how to console Graham when he didn’t win. He was surprised to learn later that Graham’s performance actually won an award.

“To me, he’s just my son out there,” said Rick.


© Leader-Post 2008




Living in Richmond & Kew Magazine

Editorial, October 2008



Matthew Ball, 14, is in Year 10 at the school. He first started to dance aged 6, encouraged by his mother – herself a pupil at the school for a year until her height prevented her from continuing. He won his place aged 11Living in Richmond Magazine, October 2008

By Lea Marshall

Dance Magazine

Febuary 2008


Within each dancer lies the story of her talent—how she discovered it, how a teacher fostered it, how it grew within her. It may take years before talent is revealed. But occasionally a student’s raw ability is so exceptional that it’s almost spooky. That’s when she might well be considered a prodigy. What does dance mean to a kid who seems to have been born doing it? What does such a student mean to a teacher? What can the dance world expect from such gifted young people? To find out, Dance Magazine spoke to several such children and their teachers.


The Soul of a Gypsymarlon-dorantes-12
Marlon Dorantes, an 11-year-old boy from California, dances flamenco like a gypsy in Spain. Inspired by his older sister’s dancing, Marlon tried a flamenco class at age 4 and loved it. Seven years later, he’s taking advanced classes with adults and performing with great success around Los Angeles.

“Audiences just eat that little boy up,” says Linda Vega, one of his teachers. “Marlon totally gets flamenco. It’s a complicated art form. It’s not just the dance moves, it’s the rhythms, the singing, the hand clapping, the guitar, and all of it together.”

Juggling classes, homework, and rehearsals can be hard, Marlon admits. “But dancing feels really fun,” he says, “and it’s a time when you can express your feelings.” He loves the fast footwork, and he likes performing to live music. “The singers can sing to you in different ways and it really gets me into the music,” he says. His dream is to go to Spain to study and perform, and his teachers share that dream. “He’s got an amazing talent. He belongs in Spain where he can be challenged, studying every day,” says Vega. “When I announce him in my shows, I call him the niño prodigio.”

From a Dancing Family
As a toddler, Nikolas Gaifullin sat in the lap of coach Pavel Fomin while his parents, Daniil and Stephanie Gaifullin, rehearsed Raymonda. His father has a video of him performing the mad scene from Giselle with his mother in their living room. nikolas-gaifullin-2

Now 12, Nikolas placed second in his division at the Youth America Grand Prix 2007 Finals, and has performed by invitation at the Spoleto Festival in Italy.

The Gaifullins, co-founders of Ballet Amarillo in Texas, remain dumbfounded by their son’s talent, even as they teach him themselves.

“He’s like an old-soul personality. It’s really rare in the ballet world,” says Daniil. Larissa Saveliev, artistic director of YAGP, first saw Nikolas perform when he was 9 years old. “He really lights up the stage. Somehow he can smile without smiling. Everybody around him gets this warm feeling.”


“I’ve been thinking about ballet since I was 2,” says Nikolas. “When I’m dancing, I feel very confident; I know what I’m going to do. And I feel proud of myself.” He likes turns and jumps; he’s working on beats.

His favorite ballet is Spartacus because of the sword fighting, and he hopes one day to dance for Ballet Amarillo in Swan Lake and La Bayadère. As teachers and parents, Daniil and Stephanie are doing their best to lay the right path for Nikolas. Even in the face of his obvious talent, they say, “We’re trying to take care of our son slowly. We’re just wishing him a happy, not too stressful, artist’s life.”

Mind Body Spirit

“There used to be a ceiling fan in my grandma’s house, and when I was a baby my feet would move to the beat of the fan. Whenever I heard music I would start banging my feet on the floor,” says Krithika Rajkumar, a 15-year-old student of the Indian classical dance form Bharata Natyam in Oak Park, Michigan.

From the age of 4, Krithika has studied with Sudha Chandrashekar, who noticed right away that she was exceptional. “Her attitude toward the dance was very happy—excited to perform and very happy to learn,” Chandrashekar says. “She retained what she learned, and I could try the most difficult moves with her.”

Krithika made her debut at age 12. Her preparations included long hours of rehearsals, strength training, and focus on expression—not her strong point at the time, she says. But with a successful debut behind her, Krithika continues to delve into different branches of Bharata Natyam. “It is such a big world,” she says. “It’s like an ocean of knowledge.”

In Krithika, says Chandrashekar, “The mind-body-spirit link is very much there. She has a natural talent for it. All this success has not gone to her head. I believe that she has understood the essence of the dance.”

In the future, Krithika hopes to use her dancing as a tool for community service, offering workshops to children with disabilities. And of course, she hopes to continue performing. “I like to connect with my audience, and I like when people enjoy my performance,” she says. “When you get involved in it, it’s an uplifting experience.”

Tap City
New York-based tapper Ayodele Casel started teaching Warren Craft when he was 9 years old, and she saw immediately that he had the gift. With tap, she says, you can tell right away who has that ear, that natural ability to pick it up. Warren did, and Casel taught him privately every Sunday for two years.

“He was the dream student. I was able to communicate advanced concepts with him the way I would with an adult. If there was anything he’d have trouble with, he’d have it corrected by the next week.” When talking about him as an improviser, she mused, “I wonder if I’ll ever have a student like that again.”

Warren, now 14, loves improvisation. He also trains in ballet, which he believes helps his presentation as a tap dancer. He has performed with American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tap City, and in Casel’s Diary of a Tap Dancer, in which voiceovers of each dancer described their personal relationship to dance. “I talked about how accepting the tap dance community is of me and how willing they are to share their knowledge with me,” says Warren. Looking ahead, he would like to perform with Tap City on tour. “My dream job would be to become a song and dance man.”


Positive Energy
With high arches, gorgeous extensions and a brilliant smile, 15-year-old Beth Miller has been catching teachers’ eyes since she began studying ballet in the second grade. In sixth grade, she saw Sylvie Guillem perform Juliet with The Royal Ballet in London, and she realized then that dancing was what she wanted to do.
“Dancing is one of those things I just can’t imagine my life without,” she says. Studying in The Washington School of Ballet’s Release-Time program, she has worked hard to develop the strength to support her flexible frame, and is extending her technique past her comfort zones. “I’m starting to like turns more and more. That used to be my weakness, but I’ve worked hard on them.” Beth hopes to perform the role of Juliet herself one day, and she dreams of dancing for The Royal Ballet.


 Becky Erhart, artistic coordinator of The Washington School of Ballet, has been working with Beth for the past two years. “The thing that really stands out is her passion and her natural movement quality,” says Erhart. Beth’s work ethic and positive attitude shine through everything she does. “You can tell how much she wants it, and how much she loves to dance,” continues Erhart. “When I’m teaching her, I get caught watching her do a very simple port de bras; she’s so involved in the movement. In rehearsals, when everyone’s tired and they’ve worked seven days in a row, Beth is in the corner smiling. She has such a positive energy.”

A Storybook Successisaac-hernandez-12-yagp2003
When he was 9 years old, Isaac Hernandez began studying ballet in his backyard in Guadalajara, Mexico, with his father, Hector Hernandez, who had danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Houston Ballet. Within three years, Isaac had won medals at competitions and a scholarship to The Rock School in Philadelphia.

Bo Spassoff, co-director of the school, recalls seeing Isaac for the first time at Youth America Grand Prix in 2002 and being floored by his technique—and his wonderful onstage personality. “He has a beautiful physique, gorgeous legs and feet, a beautiful line, natural coordination,” says Spassoff. “And he turns like a top.” Once he began at The Rock School, co-director Stephanie Spassoff says, “There were times when we’d sit there and watch him, and we’d all just turn and look at each other, and the whole faculty would have tears in their eyes.” esteban-hernandez-junior-mens-solo-yagp-2008

“Ballet was a huge door that opened my world,” says Isaac. “It was the way for me to express myself, and now I enjoy the challenges that I have.” Of all his 10 siblings, only he and his brother Esteban latched on to ballet when their father offered it. (Esteban, now 13, was named Best Male Dancer in his age range at the 2006 American Ballet Competition in Miami.)

Isaac loves the classical repertoire and has performed the Don Quixote variation since he was 11. It’s his yardstick now, the way he measures his progress in technique and expressiveness. “I guess it’s the Latin blood in me. I feel like I was born doing it,” he says. Still, he hopes one day to perform full-length versions of his favorite ballets—particularly Don Q and Giselle. At 17, with a place now in American Ballet Theatre II, that hope seems likely to be realized.

Though a young dancer may possess extraordinary talent, the same work must be done to move the dancer toward success. Commitment, a positive attitude, and hard work combine with time and luck to make an artist out of a prodigy. What Sudha Chandrashekar says applies to both talented students and their teachers: “The inner meaning of art is to strive for excellence. You have to fight against all kinds of obstacles, and then through art you can find yourself.”

Lea Marshall teaches dance at Virginia Commonwealth University and directs Ground Zero Dance Company in VA.


© 2008 Macfadden Performing Arts Media LLC.



South Tampa News & Tribune

Published: December 21, 2008

William Dugan, 12, jumps higher then those around him during a ballet practice at the Patel Conservatory Thursday. Tribune photo by Jay Nolan

William Dugan, 12, jumps higher then those around him during a ballet practice at the Patel Conservatory Thursday. Tribune photo by Jay Nolan


For others – those boy dancers sprinkled among the sea of girls – it’s an opportunity to shine.

“I think it’s fun and it’s inspiring,” said William Dugan, 12, who will play Fritz in the 7:30 p.m. showing.

Performing allows him to express himself, he said. “I love dancing for people.”

Jonathan Clements, a fourth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School who’s dancing the role of one of Fritz’s friends, is a little more nervous.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “It’s difficult to remember where you are supposed to go, whether to the left of stage or right. It’s very confusing.” That said, he can’t wait for Tuesday’s show.

“This is helping me to achieve my goals,” said Jonathan, who wants to become a famous dancer.

The boys are a bit of an anomaly in ballet. Of the Orlando Ballet School’s 200 students at the Patel Conservatory only 10 are male.

“There’s a tremendous need for male dancers,” said Peter Stark, director of the school. “In America, there is a stigma that little girls take ballet and little boys take soccer. But for boys, it’s a fantastic profession.”

Scholarships and leading roles for qualified male dancers are plentiful, Stark said. To become a star, though, means starting at age 7 or 8 to develop the necessary flexibility and strength.

In August, Stark started an Introduction to Ballet for Boys course at the Patel Conservatory. He commutes from Orlando to teach the weekly class’s five students. His reputation for training leading male dancers has mothers driving their sons cross-county for the class. William has been coming from New Port Richey four times a week – once for class and three times for “Nutcracker” rehearsals.

From left Preston Barber, 10, and William Dugan ,12, hold position during a ballet practice at the Patel Conservatory Dec. 18. There are five boys in the group which is growing. Tribune photo by Jay Nolan

From left Preston Barber, 10, and William Dugan ,12, hold position during a ballet practice at the Patel Conservatory Dec. 18. There are five boys in the group which is growing. Tribune photo by Jay Nolan

“All he does at home is dance around the house,” said his mother, Lori Dugan. “I’m trying to raise a well-rounded kid, and this teaches dedication, manners and responsibility. And he loves it.”

Stark keeps the boys’ attention with calisthenics, slyly slipping in an arabesque between the push-ups and sit-ups.

“It makes it more of a guy thing,” Stark said. “Male ballet dancing is very athletic, and they respond to it like a sport.

“To be one boy in a group of 20 girls in pink is miserable.”



©2008 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC

By Jennifer Rumple

December 18, 2008



A trio of teen boys from Alameda have hung up their soccer cleats for the season and slipped on ballet shoes for this year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

The Alameda Civic Ballet has cast Colin Brady, 13 and Harrison Royster, 12, as toy soldiers in the traditional holiday performance. Cameron Beene, 13, snatched the starring role as the Nutcracker prince for the third year in a row.

“I go to school with Colin. He and Harrison are also on my soccer team. It’s really great having them around during rehearsals because I’m usually surrounded by all girls and they just want to huddle up and talk about girl things,” said Beene, an eighth-grader at Beacon Day School in Oakland. “I like to joke around and mess around with the guys. I’m excited we’re all doing this together.”

Since October, the three multi-talented teens would play on Alameda Soccer League’s Red Star team Saturday mornings. They then would take off their sports gear and replace it with soldiers’ uniforms for their afternoon “Nutcracker “role rehearsals. The double-duty ended in November, when their team snagged the league championship title.

“Both are physically demanding. Ballet and soccer are completely different things, but the instructors’ expectations are kind of the same,” said Brady, also in eighth grade at Beacon whose parents are former ballet dancers. “My soccer coach has us doing a lot of exercise drills up and down the field and my dance instructor tells me to lift my knees higher and have greater movement when I march.”

ACB Artistic Director Abra Rudisill has guided these boys, and the rest of the Nutcracker cast, the last four years at the Alameda Ballet Academy. She started the studio four years ago after 20 years as a professional ballerina. Rudisill acknowledged there is a stigma in the United States against men and ballet.

“But, not with these boys. I think they’re all pretty confident, secure boys and have grown up in an atmosphere of seeing male dancers, like their parents and at their schools,” said Rudisill, whose husband Gail Foster and 13-year-old son Walker also perform in this year’s production. “When you grow up with it, it’s no big deal. It’s just another thing they want to explore. I think it’s fantastic.

Royster plays a high ranking Toy Soldier in the ballet and is also the under-study for one of the adult characters in the opening party scene. The Oakland School for the Arts seventh grader said most of his friends are very educated, artsy and open-minded.

“No one really cares if a dancer is male or female. Besides, dance makes you a much better athlete,” added Royster, who’s taking part in this year’s ballet and dance classes thanks to a scholarship provided by Rudisill.

“I play basketball, soccer, baseball and swim. Dancing has helped my balance, makes me loose and agile. It allows me to jump higher and keep up with the ball in whatever sport I’m doing.”

“The strength and stamina you get with ballet and sports really do complement each other,” said Denise Brady, ACB costume designer and Colin’s mother. “It’s really wonderful to see these boys working as a team both on the field and on the stage. They also complement each other.”


Copyright © 2008 – San Jose Mercury News

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