Mount Dora School of Ballet Students Take Their Training To The Big Apple
Like clockwork every weekday morning, they silently shuffled through the apartment, collecting their things and winding up their long silky tresses into a tight lacquered bun at the top of their heads. In tandem, they slid the kitchen table over to the wall, propped up a full length mirror, longways, atop the table and laid out an amalgamation of hair supplies with the synchronicity of a big city ballet.
In silence they eased into a new day full of promise and inspiration as they embraced the city two flights down and outside this tiny place called home. For three and five weeks respectively, Annika Slaby 15, and Carolyn Bakich 16, were woven into the daily heartbeat of The Big Apple; the convergence of worldwide culture and unbridled energy.
But for Annika and Carolyn, this was not your ordinary New York City vacation. Rather, it was a mission for each of them to dig in and test the waters of their dream; the dream of becoming professional ballet dancers.
This tour started long before their auditions last winter for the Gelsey Kirkland Academy summer intensive, a classically-oriented studio providing specialized training for gifted students from around the world. It culminated years of steadfast resolve plus each girl’s nearly life-long training at the nurturing hands of Kathryn Wheeler, Artistic Director of the Mount Dora School of Ballet.
“These two young dancers began their studies in our Children’s Division. They truly fell in love with ballet and they began a journey toward an inspired goal . . . to dance professionally. And it doesn’t come from wishing and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of layering in training; ballet technique, pointe, variations, partnering classes, character dance and contemporary dance,” said Wheeler.
Attending summer intensives is one of those crucial layers that prepares a dancer for the professional world.
“I believe it’s important for my dancers to go away in the summer and experience different teachers and to dance alongside different dancers. It helps give them a perspective they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Wheeler said.
The life of a dancer, however, is certainly not for the faint of heart. Both Annika and Carolyn, with over a decade’s-worth of training behind them, have already started accumulating their own stories from whence they came. But each is seeing the payoff of the dedication to their dream.
One step after another this summer, the girls not only descended the New York City subways daily, but ascended their craft, blooming like spring flowers in a crowded and vibrant patch of others just like them. Standing amongst girls topped with the same lacquered buns and dreams tested Annika and Carolyn’s resolve with every tendu, plie’ and more.
Reaching their goals in dance not only takes hard work, passion and commitment but the support of their families to make this journey to their dream possible.
“Our families are so important to the success of our students. There is not only a financial commitment, but a time commitment and standing by their dancer with encouragement and love,” continued Wheeler.
As a parent who accompanied the girls to New York City this summer, Maria Slaby knows first-hand the kind of physical and emotional strength that these young dancers required.
“Every day Annika and Carolyn amazed me with their steadfast strength and spirit to keep on keepin’ on, even when I could tell their bodies wanted to give out,” said Slaby. “Every evening on the forty-five minute commute back to our apartment in Manhattan, the girls looked forward to their daily prize of a piece of sea-salt chocolate dipped in peanut butter. I’ll always treasure the many sweet and fun moments with these two special girls.”
But most important to Slaby was the comfort in knowing that the girls were so well prepared for this challenge to dance with the best of the best.
“I’m so thankful that the girls brought with them years of stellar training from the Mount Dora School of Ballet, allowing them to participate with confidence among such high caliber dancers.”
However, being amongst the best puts even the strongest-spirited to the test.
“Dancing all day, every day, takes a big toll on your body,” said Annika. “Dancing in the summer prepares us for what it would be like being a professional ballet dancer in a company because we’re dancing all day. But, it is still new for our bodies to take on such vigorous training. Especially around so many amazing dancers who inspire you to step up your game and great teachers who help mold you into a better-rounded dancer. You just want to give it your all, all the time.”
Carolyn echoed that thought adding a reflection on the importance of balance to go the distance with her training.
“Physically keeping up with my body in order to be in class the next day and sustain myself for five weeks was a challenge,” Carolyn said. “It sounds easy since I dance at home for a whole season, but the intensity similar to that of a company member truly taught me to take care of myself and know when to cut back as well as when to suck it up and dance through the pain.”
But beyond the true grit required for the ballet journey, both Annika and Carolyn, unquestionably, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Taking the opportunity to go beyond your hometown studio expands your horizons and really shows you the generation of dancers you are among,” Annika said. “When you go to any summer intensive, big or small, it may either boost your confidence to realize you’re not as bad as you thought you were, or it will inspire you to hold up your leg an extra second longer! When you’re among so many talented dancers, it makes you realize there is always someone out there working a little bit harder than you. So it inspires you to be that person who works a little bit harder.”
That kind of determination doesn’t just come from the ordinary. It comes from an extraordinary essence rooted in these girls with big ballet dreams. Carolyn shares a peek at what is likely at the core of every dancer.
“My favorite part about this whole experience was learning that I loved dance no matter where I was, no matter who was teaching. While I truly have loved dancing in my home studio since I was a young child, it was really neat to recognize that no matter which barre I was standing at, I felt at home.
At summer’s end, after thousands of steps, thousands of stretches and thousands of turns, Annika and Carolyn have added another story to tuck into their tightly woven buns and would do it all over again.
“The training was phenomenal, I feel as though I really developed artistry throughout the five weeks. The teachers were incredible and I felt it was the perfect mixture of challenging and refining. I pushed myself through difficult combinations and classes while working on the technique I brought with me,” said Carolyn.