- Kym Cunningham
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San Pedro Ballet Students Receive Scholarships to Prestigious Dance Schools
By Kym Cunningham, Contributing Writer
San Pedro Ballet School has announced that three of its students will be following in Misty Copeland’s graceful footsteps by attending two esteemed performing arts schools in New York City.
Misty Copeland was the San Pedro Ballet School’s first prodigy. Through the studio’s guidance, Copeland moved to New York, taking the ballet world by storm when she became the first black principal dancer of New York’s renowned American Ballet Theatre. Copeland has since become a household name synonymous with hard work.
Now, three more students from the same school have a chance to follow the star’s trajectory. Enrique Anaya and Lauren Renee Ortega will attend the Joffrey Ballet School this summer, while Danielle Ciaramitaro will begin classes at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in the fall. All have received scholarships. Each expressed excitement about the opportunity to pursue their art at such a high level.
Ciaramitaro said going to New York to pursue her career in the performing arts had always been her dream.
“It’s all I ever wanted growing up,” Ciaramitaro said. “I’m super grateful and thankful to everyone who has supported me along this journey. I’m excited to spread my wings and fly.”
Ciaramitaro and Ortega both began dancing at the San Pedro Ballet School when they were in preschool. Ortega said ballet was originally one of many activities her mother encouraged her to pursue, but once she took a class she fell immediately in love with the art. Ciaramitaro agreed.
“I originally started at home watching DVDs,” Ciaramitaro said. “My grandma would play these ballerina DVDs for me. I loved it so much that I asked her if I could go take an actual ballet class.”
In contrast, Anaya was a relative latecomer to the world of ballet; he was introduced to the San Pedro Ballet School in 2016 by one of his teachers at the Humanity and Arts Academy of Los Angeles.
“I didn’t really know anything about it,” Anaya admitted. “I looked a mess.”
Ortega remembered that Anaya wore socks and basketball shorts to his first class. Anaya, professionally clad in a black athletic tank and ballet leggings, smiled at the memory. Like Ciaramitaro and Ortega, once Anaya started dancing, he was hooked.
“I took that one class and that’s really all it took,” Anaya said. “I really like it because you get to be really graceful but at the same time, at least for men, you get to be super masculine. They go hand in hand.”
A Second Home
Another aspect of the San Pedro Ballet School that all three students appreciated was the supportive atmosphere, which extends into the surrounding neighborhoods.
“This whole community, especially in Pedro, really supports the studio,” Anaya said. “There’s a sense of home here.”
Ortega and Ciaramitaro both agreed.
“All of us are like family,” Ortega said. “We spend four hours every day together.”
Ortega admitted that often she spent more time with this second family than with her own family. She cited this as one of the sacrifices that she has had to make in order to pursue her art.
But in the midst of this sacrifice, these young adults seem to have found the uplifting communal energy from which so many of their peers are isolated. Unlike the aggressive competition that is usually featured in media representations of the ballet world, these three students seem to view each other as competitive safety nets, each with impressive capabilities that push the others to test their physical boundaries.
“You feed off each other: the energy that people give is what you receive,” Anaya said. “You see in a room, “Oh, this girl or guy can kick their head. Let me try or let me work as hard as them. That’s what gets you going.”
The House that Misty Built
Perhaps this new emergence of community within the ballet world is due in part to the increasing availability of youth exposure to professional dancers via the internet. Similarly, Misty Copeland has opened doors within the ballet industry, demonstrating to aspiring young dancers what is possible.
“Misty was a big influence,” Ortega said. “She shows a new path for a … huge group of ballerinas.”
Ciaramitaro agreed that Misty was one of her biggest dancing influences. She also said that when she is not in the studio, she spends a lot of her time watching professional dancing videos; instead of her grandmother’s DVDs, she now finds inspiration for her dancing on YouTube.
Of course, the true love of these three students lies within the onstage performance — an event that would terrify the vast majority of people. But when these students described the ethereal quality of performing onstage, it was impossible not to become enamored with the feelings that they evoked.
“What you feel when you’re onstage — that adrenaline — it’s almost like a dream,” said Anaya. “When it’s over, it’s so bittersweet… It leaves me speechless. You stand frozen and you think about nothing.”
“[At the end of a performance,] sometimes you cry because it’s really emotional,” Ortega said. “You’re in paradise.”
Even talking about performing was enough to bring to bring up these tumultuous and cathartic emotions. In the studio’s last production of The Nutcracker, Anaya played the part of the prince, while Ciaramitaro played the lead female role of Clara.
“I started as a little mouse in The Nutcracker, an to get up to the part of Clara was like a dream for me,” Ciaramitaro said amidst tears of happiness.
Not a Second to Lose
Despite the happiness dancing brings these students, training for it necessitates sacrifice. From getting up for school at 6 a.m. to ending ballet class at 8 p.m., these students rarely have a moment of time to themselves.
“I don’t have a social life,” Ortega admitted. “It’s pretty much here and school.”
In order to cope with the demands of devoting her life to the performing arts, Ciaramitaro began homeschooling during her last year of high school.
“Public schooling was really stressful for me and everything that I did — I also sing and act — I do a lot, not just dance,” said Ciaramitaro. “Being homeschooled really helped me with balancing everything.”
As a latecomer to the rigors of training for ballet, Anaya said it was a sucker punch coming to the San Pedro Ballet School, where students train four hours, five days a week, leaving no time unused.
“You’re always doing something: if you’re not doing schoolwork, then you’re at the studio dancing,” Anaya said. “You plan out your whole entire day.”
“Not a minute to waste,” she said.
“You need a lot of commitment,” Ortega admitted. “Every second counts in a day, every little second. If you’re not doing anything, you’re wasting time.”
But these students agreed that this rigorous scheduling was just a part of their training.
“You have to spend a lot of time investing in your training,” Anaya said. “It’s a huge sacrifice but it’s well worth it…. It’s a dream of mine to be able to do what I love: dance and performing.”
A self-professed theater girl with a broad range of performing arts skills, Ciaramitaro would love to perform on Broadway, whereas Anaya and Ortega dream of becoming members in professional dance companies.
It is important to note that despite their youth, these are not children with their heads in the clouds. These are emerging professionals, who understand things like time management and sacrifice; these are young dancers who know that their art is only as good as the time and sweat they put into it, who spend chunks of their day studying and practicing and perfecting what they love to do. They accept limitations — physical, mental and temporal — they believe in commitment, which is more than can be said for many full-fledged adults. Most of all, they recognize that good work is never finished.
More Hard Work Ahead
For these students, more hard work lies ahead. At the Joffrey Ballet School, Anaya and Ortega will practice nine hours a day, five days a week, more than they have ever practiced before.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Anaya said. “You can have fun but work your butt off. That’s why I’m here.”
For Ciaramitaro, she will spend the next several years of her life breathing and living the performing arts in pursuit of her aspirations to become a Broadway actress. But despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, these students believe that the life skills and training they have received from the San Pedro Ballet School has prepared them for whatever may lie ahead.
“Our drive is greater than the challenges that we’re going to face,” Ortega said.