Local ballet dancer, 12, accepted into prestigious National Ballet School
Todd Stellmaker recalls when he and his wife, Jessica, made the decision nine years ago to send their daughter, Olivia, to ballet lessons.
"We put her in it when she was 3 because we thought it would be cute," he said.
That simple decision, meant to involve her in an activity until she was older and could play a sport such as volleyball, has led to a much bigger decision: whether to let her move 15 hours away to attend seventh grade and study ballet.
Olivia, 12, was recently accepted into Canada's prestigious National Ballet School, in Toronto, and will be attending this fall.
"Ultimately, we left it (the decision) up to her," Jessica said. "Now, it's more us getting comfortable with letting her go."
Canada's National Ballet School was established in 1959 and is one of the world's foremost training institutions for aspiring young dancers and teachers. Attracting students from around the world, it is the only academy in North America to provide elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care on the same campus.
Olivia was one of just 50 students accepted out of about 1,000 students who auditioned for the program, which runs from grade six to 12.
Neither Todd nor Jessica has a background in ballet. Actually, Jessica is head volleyball coach at Rochester John Marshall and had imagined that some day she might be coaching her daughter.
"That didn't pan out," Jessica joked, adding: "She would have been tough to coach, too. We're both Type-A personalities."
Not being as familiar with ballet as they are with sports actually allowed them to "watch and just enjoy her," rather than critique her moves, Jessica said. "It's been nice."
The couple also has a son, Jaret, 16, who is involved in multiple sports, and a daughter, Laney, 3, who soon will start dance lessons.
Olivia studied ballet at Allegro School of Dance and Music for the past two years with Kennet Oberly, who encouraged the family about the possibility of her attending the school in Canada.
Also instrumental in her education has been Allen Fields, a private trainer who worked with Olivia on and off for four years, with the last year being what he described as "her critical year, as she moves forward with her career." Fields taught her privately at Allen Fields Classical Ballet & Training. Fields is also the artistic director emeritus for Minnesota Ballet, a company he founded.
Of Olivia, Fields said: "I have worked with thousands of students in dance and seldom see all the stars lined up as for Olivia. She has the courage, passion and willingness to do and achieve her goals. I have produced over 20 professional dancers in the marketplace such as Houston Ballet, Momix, Boston and other ballet companies. One in 1,000 may end up dancing, and that may be a high number. We will see Olivia on stage with a major company."
According to the National Ballet School, its graduates can be found as dancers, choreographers, artistic directors, teachers and administrators in more than 65 dance companies worldwide and in even more schools around the globe.
During the academic year, students spend between two and four hours in the dance studio daily. In addition to ballet, students take classes in contemporary repertoire and technique, improvisation, classical Indian dance, drama and expression, historical/character dance and anatomy as well as ballet classes focusing on variations, repertoire, pas de deux and more.
Ballet school is special opportunity for young Rochester dancer