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Central Kitsap ballet dancers give blood, sweat and tears
Katie Presley can recall four years ago sitting in the corner, on the stack of mats, watching her classmates practice their arabesques and pointe work. She wasn’t being punished, but it felt like it.
“It hurt to watch because you want to dance. Your heart is still definitely involved in it,” said Presley, 18, of Irene’s School of Dance’s Dance Arts Theatre in Silverdale.
During a routine jump in class, Presley had sprained her ankle. Despite two-and-a-half months on crutches, and three months of not being able to dance, she attended every dance practice to watch and learn.
“If you don’t show up here, you’re letting the whole class down,” she said.
When the curtain goes up, the audience should only see grace and poise. What the audience shouldn’t see is the sacrifice it took to reach the stage, the physical pain and disappointment.
Although there is no finish line or clock, dancing is competitive. The conditioning and training can be compared to sports.
However, dancers must smile through the pain.
“You don’t want to show the audience the pain, so we just smile,” Presley said before a rehearsal last month. “You can show your pain backstage.”
In addition to the hardships all ballet dancers must endure, males sometimes face additional hurdles, as the stereotype of dancing is that it is an easy, feminine activity.
“It’s so normal for me to be a dancer,” said Logan Martin, 18, who opted out of his senior year at Central Kitsap High School to train with a pre-professional dance troupe in Philadelphia. He can recall being teased during recess in elementary school. Some kids would chase and throw balls at him because they knew he danced.
“There’s just that association with ballet being a gay thing,” he said.
There are 42 dancers in Dance Arts Theatre’s company, led by school director, Irene Miller, who are currently preparing for their production of “Wizard of Oz” this month. Bremerton Dance Center’s Peninsula Dance Theatre, directed by Lawan Morrison, is in the midst of rehearsals for “Romeo and Juliet.” Their company has about 30 dancers and are scheduled to perform at the end of the month.
Ballet dancers in both companies said they endure the wear and tear of dancing, ranging from calloused toes to aching knees.
“There’s a lot of sweat, tears and dedication,” said Nathan Welch of Bremerton, who dances with Peninsula Dance Theatre.
Welch, 30, began dancing when he was 16 years old — a few friends of his were in the rat scene of “The Nutcracker” and he decided it may be fun to join. He was involved in high school sports including basketball and football but then realized he was spending more time in the studio.
“Once they get their claws into you, they never let go,” Welch said.
Speaking from personal experience, Ryan Marshall, 29, said Morrison is “famous for pulling men off the street.” Morrison said she has always felt lucky to find enough men to fill roles for her programs. She recruits at the high schools when she is there helping out with their productions.
For Miller, this year’s “Wizard of Oz” is an all-female dance cast.
“They’re either in sports or our rehearsal schedule overlaps with theirs,” Miller said. “For some, it’s just not their thing.”
There may be a reason behind it not being “their thing” for many boys.
Iyun Harrison, an assistant professor of dance at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, said American male culture thrives on competition, and many are drawn to sports where there is a clear winner and loser. This is not the case for dance. There are also gender stereotypes associated with the classical arts that generally have parents pushing their athletically gifted sons toward sports, he added.
“You send your girl to dancing and your boy to do sports, that’s still a part of the cultural tradition in the U.S.,” Harrison said.
And boys just aren’t scarce in community theater. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s school has 900 students and 70 of them are boys, said Gary Tucker, spokesman for the Seattle dance company. In the school’s professional division there are 33 women and seven men, he said adding that these numbers are the general outcome in terms of male and female ratio from year to year.
Although Harrison said there is no easy way to increase male interest in ballet, having a strong male presence in dance programs will encourage boys to become involved in the classical arts. Originally from Jamaica, Harrison said dance is a popular activity for boys and that he gained a lot of support there.
But for some here in Kitsap, they don’t have to be poked and prodded to dance.
Martin currently dances with Pennsylvania Ballet II, the pre-professional company for Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia. He was introduced to ballet by frequently accompanying his mom while dropping off his older sister at lessons at the Bremerton Dance Center and from seeing her perform. But, often just dancing around the house as a kid, he said it was something he’s always loved and began taking classes at age 5. His sister stopped taking classes at the same time at age 9.
“He loved it from the very beginning. He’s very artistic. We were like, ‘Will he grow into it?’” his mother Terri Martin said regarding his tall height.
“When you dance, nothing else matters. Having your arms and legs and torso move, it’s rather euphoric,” Logan Martin said.
Logan Martin said very few people are able to do what they love for their job. If the company has a show, he has an eight- to nine-hour day of dancing. Even before his group’s allotted one hour and fifteen minute warm-up, he shows up 30 minutes early to do crunches, sit-ups and stretching on his own.
As his schedule proves, ballet is physically demanding and most dancers like Logan Martin, acknowledge it.
“You’re physical, and pulling yourself in ways that aren’t natural,” Marshall of Bremerton said.
Olivia Nelsen, 17, of Silverdale has been dancing at Irene’s School of Dance since she was 3 years old and hopes to turn her passion into a career.
“I’m not a sports person. That’s never been my thing, but dance totally is,” Nelsen said.
With the spring performances on the horizon, dancers in both the Silverdale and Bremerton companies rehearse during the weekends and take classes during the week. There is no time off if dancers are serious, they said.
“We have aches and pain. Our feet are all beat up,” Presley said, smiling.
Dance Arts Theatre
“Wizard of Oz”
7 p.m., April 9 and 2 p.m., April 10
Bremerton High School
Performing Arts Center
Peninsula Dance Theatre
“Romeo and Juliet”
7:30 p.m., April 30 and
3 p.m., May 1
Bremerton High School Performing Arts Center