I was recently alerted to the fact that a young woman had left Ypsilanti to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina in New York City. Fortunately, I was able to track her down. Following is the transcript of her exit interview.
MARK: Let’s start with your name, OK?
NICASIA: My full name is Nicasia Marie Solano-Reed, but on the internet I go by Nicasia Marie.
MARK: I think you might be the youngest person I’ve ever conducted an exit interview with. How old are you?
NICASIA: I am sixteen years old, and five months, to be specific.
MARK: And you just recently moved from Ypsilanti to New York, leaving your family behind, so that you could study at the Joffrey Ballet, right?
NICASIA: I lived in New York for the month of July, and returned to New York two weeks ago. I am currently studying at the Joffrey Ballet School as a trainee, which means that I am a student, but I learn choreography from the performing company as well.
MARK: So, I take it that you’re pretty good…
NICASIA: I never know quite how to respond to that statement, but I will try to explain myself without sounding too modest or egotistical! My greatest strength as a dancer is that I am incredibly hardworking, and my work ethic allows me to advance and excel beyond other dancers who might not dedicate as much time and effort to their work. I’ve also worked with an outstanding teacher throughout the past two years, and she has molded my passion, talent, work ethic. She has turned me into a wonderful dancer. I’ve also been blessed with a wonderful ballet body. Ballerinas are supposed to be thin, tall, and flexible, and thankfully I am all three of those things. My body also contributed toward my being accepted into a multitude of dance schools. In short, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I weren’t a strong, and naturally blessed, dancer.
MARK: Is it considered bad form to ask ballerinas about the Black Swan? If so, you don’t have to answer. I’ve never seen it, though, and I was wondering what your thoughts were concerning how the film portrayed ballet dancers.
NICASIA: It isn’t considered bad form, but many dancers are rather opinionated about the movie. Personally, I think that Black Swan is a wonderful work of cinematography and portrays some true aspects of the dance world, but shouldn’t be considered a ballet movie. It is true that the ballet world can be twisted, deceitful, and dangerously competitive, but any ballet dancer will tell you that ballet is their greatest joy despite the many struggles. The ballet world isn’t as dark as the movie makes it out to be. It bugs me, and most dancers, that the media has portrayed Natalie Portman as a great ballerina. It is actually quite disrespectful and upsetting that she has achieved ballerina status. Ballet dancers train for hours on end, seven days per week, for years on end to become technically proficient and beautiful artists so they can receive and maintain jobs in ballet companies, while never achieving Natalie Portman’s level of fame. She didn’t train as a ballet dancer and is not a ballerina. Her double, Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theater wasn’t given enough credit for doing the majority of the dancing in the film.
MARK: You trained, I believe, at the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre. I’m curious as to how common it is for young people, such as yourself, to go on to pursue careers in ballet from a program like that. As I know absolutely nothing about that world, I’m just trying to get a sense as to how rare it is for someone to leave our corner of Michigan for New York at sixteen. I imagine it doesn’t happen very often, right?
NICASIA: I have trained with with Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre and it’s school, CAS Ballet Theatre School under Carol Radovic and Kathy Sharp for the past two years. I am the first in ten years to leave CAS Ballet Theatre School in attempts to pursue a career. I only know of two other people who have left the Ypsilanti area to study ballet in New York, so it is not a common occurrence among dancers in the area. Many girls choose to wait until they graduate high school to try and pursue a dance career, but often times, at the age of eighteen, it’s already too late to begin preparing to dance in a company. It is uncommon, but necessary for me to leave home and train at the age 16 in order to ensure that I have proper training and a successful career.
MARK: How are you liking NY? Are you getting to see much of it, or are you dancing until you collapse every day?
NICASIA: I LOVE New York. That sounds terribly touristy, but it’s true. I’m a total city person, and I love the diversity and energy of New York more than any other place in the world. I never plan on moving away from here. I had more free time while I was here in July, so I got to explore lots of the city then. Right now, I am dancing until I collapse, so I’m limited to sightseeing and shopping on the weekends. Over the summer, I lived in the Financial District, right now I’m living in Queens, and next week I’m moving to the Upper West Side (which is my absolute favorite area) so I’ve gotten to know a few areas of the city by nature of living there.
MARK: Is it everything that you hoped it would be?
NICASIA: I have had an obsession with New York ever since I can remember that spawned from a love of cities, bright neon lights, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and high fashion. I begged my parents to take us there every time we planned for vacation, but my family never quite shared my fascination with the city. When I arrived in July, I was worried that New York wouldn’t meet my expectations. It didn’t just meet them, it exceeded them in all aspects, and I fell in love. I love everything about New York, and I am so happy that my dreams of New York came true.
MARK: When did you first know that you wanted to dance?
NICASIA: I wasn’t interested in ballet when I was younger, and I never asked my mom if I could take a ballet class. I did however (and still do) have a severe inability to sit still for more than 10 minutes at a time. My mom read a study which declared that ballet created discipline in children that could be transferred to all aspects of their lives. She wasted no time enrolling me in a pre-ballet class at the Ypsilanti Township Rec Center in hopes that I would calm down some. Not only did I calm down, I fell in love. Some people never really figure out what they want, and where their purpose in life lies, but I’ve known since I was five at a rec center ballet class. Its been my dream to be a ballet dancer from day one.
MARK: What do you miss most about Ypsilanti, other than your family?
NICASIA: I really do love Ypsilanti, and I miss its quirky, slightly ghetto, and charming style. I miss Riverside Park a lot, because that’s where my friends and I would always go to gossip and dip our toes in the water. I miss the Ugly Mug and their flawless coffee, and I miss how quiet Ypsi can be. I also really miss my house and my cats.
MARK: You have a blog entitled “An Aspiring Ballerina’s Blog.” Can you tell us why you started the blog?
NICASIA: I created my blog initially so my friends and family could stay updated on my journey. My friends and family don’t know much about ballet, so it is a great way for them to stay informed and educated about what I’m doing with my life. I give the address to random people I meet as well as sharing the link every week on Facebook and Twitter, because I realized that its a great way for myself and ballet to gain publicity. Money is also incredibly tight in my family because of the expenses created by ballet, and I thought that a blog was a good way to share my story and gain financial support in the process.
MARK: When did you move to Ypsilanti, or were you born here?
NICASIA: I was born and raised in Ypsilanti. Homegrown Ypsi girls are the best!
MARK: Did I read correctly on your blog that your dad was looking for work in New York? Is there a possibility that the family may move out there, to be near you?
NICASIA: Life is really crazy and beautiful. When I came to New York in July my dad interviewed for a teaching position at City University of New York. He hasn’t had a full time job for the past few years and has worked six or seven part time jobs as a freelance cello artist in order make ends meet in our family and support my dreams. At the end of August, he was awarded the job at City University and promptly moved to New York a few weeks ahead of when I was scheduled to move. My dad received a much deserved job as a cello teacher, and I am so happy that he did. I live with my dad here in New York, which I love because we’re both quiet and I don’t have to deal with living in student housing. My mom still lives in Ypsilanti and works in Detroit, and doesn’t have any immediate plans to move out here, even though it’s really tough for her to be away from my dad and me. My brother is a freshman at the University of Michigan and wouldn’t have moved with us regardless.
MARK: I’m curious as to how things work at the Joffrey Ballet. Are you in a program with a number of other girls, and, at some point, do some move on, while others return home? I’m sorry if that’s an awkward subject, but I have no idea how this industry works, and I’m interested. My sense, however, is that it’s incredibly competitive, extremely intense, and often brutal. Are you all competing for parts in productions, trying to get in front of people, or does that kind of thing happen later?
NICASIA: There are roughly 100 girls at the Joffrey Ballet School, and it’s technically a four year program, although many leave before their time is up. 60% of girls leave Joffrey with job offers from various dance companies. The other 40% either decide that a career in ballet isn’t right for them, or simply don’t have what it takes to be professional dancers. That sounds harsh, but its true. Joffrey is filled with performance opportunities, and parts depend on how we do during initial rehearsals, in which we learn choreography. The rehearsals are intense, and are “learn fast or go home.” Outside of Joffrey, all dance companies (School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theater, ect) hold auditions for their schools and summer intensives in January and February. Thousands of dancers audition and only a few hundred are accepted, and the auditions are extremely competitive. The ballet world is intense. It’s every dancer for themselves, and dancers endure immense physical and emotional pain from teachers, directors, and the art form itself.
MARK: I have a friend who’s a dance writer for New York Times. Every time I’ve spoken with her, I’ve been amazed by how many productions are staged in the City. I would have thought that there might be a few new things a month, but, as she tells it, there are multiple things happening every night. It must be kind of intoxicating to be in that kind of environment, having left a relatively small town.
NICASIA: In Ypsilanti ballet was my entire life because I made it my entire life. Ballet is pretty foreign to most people in Ypsilanti. New York makes ballet my life for me. I can go see a ballet almost any night of the week, and I’m constantly surrounded by ballet dancers and ballet enthusiasts alike. It can be overwhelming, but it is for the most part really magical.
It can be pretty depressing, talking to talented young people who are leaving our community, as I often find myself doing, but, in a way, it’s also kind of beautiful. It’s cool to think that we’re incubating inquisitive, driven young adults and watching them head bravely out into the world to attempt great things. As much as it hurts that they can’t find what they’re looking for here, at least right now, it’s nice to know that these brilliant people are finding their own ways, and making opportunities for themselves. It gives me hope for my kids.