At what age did you begin ballet? Where did you receive your early training?
I began dance at age 3. Both my older sisters danced and I begged for a year to take class too. I started in a combo ballet/tap pullout class at a Montessori school and my first recital was a tap recital.
The next year, I started ballet and tap classes at a small studio called Denton Ballet Academy. I moved to Ballet Conservatory (BC) when I was 8 to train with Kelly Kilburn Lannin. Ms. Lannin introduced me to classical ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and musical theater. It was a great performance studio that fed into a local company, LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT).
I was invited to join LBT at age 11 and performed many ballets there for two years before leaving for NYC. At BC/LBT, I was able to train with Ms. Lannin, Shawn Stevens (NYCB and Twyla Tharp), and Allan Kinzie (Boston Ballet) as well as guest artists including Michael Vernon (Royal Ballet), Josh Bergasse (On The Town, Smash), Marco Perins (La Scala), Julie Kent (ABT).
When did you realize you wanted to be a professional ballet dancer?
I always preferred tap/jazz over ballet until I was 11 years old – then I got my pointe shoes! I auditioned for summer programs that winter and spent my 12th summer at ABT NYC. I knew then I wanted to be a professional ballerina in NYC. When I was 13, I performed Serenade with LBT and knew then it was Balanchine all the way.
I saw on YouTube that you competed in Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP) when you were 13. Tell us a little about that experience and what you learned from it.
I did compete in YAGP when I was 13. It was a great year. I did two classical pieces – Satanella and Aurora’s first variation from Sleeping Beauty. I also did a contemporary piece choreographed by Shawn Stevens to Vivaldi called Red Cardinal. I had gorgeous tutus sewn by Elizabeth Schillar, a tutu designer in Texas. She allowed me to help with the creation, picking fabric and even sewing on all the crystals.
I won 1st place in Classical in Dallas and Top 12 in Contemporary and went on to compete in the YAGP NYC Finals. I had great scores and great comments and was offered full scholarships to quite a few places including Canada National and John Cranko, but I had to decline them all because I already knew I was going to the School of American Ballet (New York City Ballet’s official school) on scholarship.
Training for YAGP is an experience a young dancer cannot replace at that age. Private lessons that provided individual performance coaching were so valuable for my technique and confidence. My coaches taught me to work for the sake of experience, not to win a contest. I learned that a dance career is a marathon not a sprint, and not to get caught up on losing or winning any one thing.