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Creating Lifelong Memories for Sleeping Beauty's Student Performers

Ballet students in black leotards hold a pose on their knee in a dance studio.
Conservatory Students rehearse the Garland Waltz with the company.

Throughout the work week, the professional company is rehearsing from 9 to 4 to prepare for our upcoming performances of Sleeping Beauty. This routine gets mixed up on Saturdays, when something very special happens: our student cast members tiptoe into the studio to practice with the company. These young dancers will perform with us throughout the production.

The student dancers, aged 10 to 18, are drawn from BTM's Conservatory. They include a number of Nutcracker veterans, young dancers who have livened up the Party Scene, terrorized Clara in the Battle Scene, or welcomed her to the Land of the Sweets. Students who have performed with us before are comfortable with how rehearsal works in "the big studio," but our Sleeping Beauty student cast includes several dancers performing with BTM for the first time. Their energy and excitement makes Sleeping Beauty an exciting experience for us just as much as for them.

A Unique Opportunity

Unlike The Nutcracker, where the company holds open auditions for student cast members, Sleeping Beauty's young performers are drawn from BTM's Annapolis and Grasonville locations. Students in Classical Ballet 3 through 6 were all invited to participate, an opportunity that is one of the benefits of being a Conservatory student. This is not exclusive to Sleeping Beauty; recently, you may have seen students of ours perform in Michael West Jr.'s Day Boy and Night Girl in Momentum 2024 or as part of Don Quixote in April 2023.

However, this is the first time the company has performed Sleeping Beauty since 2016. A few of our company members were here the last time around, but it has been a brand-new experience for students in the Conservatory. Markella Gatanas, a senior in high school who grew up dancing with BTM, shares:

A ballet student poses en pointe in a dance studio.
Markella and other Conservatory students rehearse their Act III dance.

"I absolutely love performing in productions with the company! Not only is it an incredible honor to be able to dance alongside professional dancers, but it is also a privilege to dance with some of my best friends who are also in the Conservatory. Not a lot of kids get the opportunity to do what they love with professionals, so it is so exciting to see these productions come to life from the first few rehearsals to curtain close. My favorite ballets are the ones where we are performing new choreography that the company has never done before. Sleeping Beauty will be especially exciting as I have never performed it with the company before, and Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers!"

A Tight Bond

As with other small dance companies, there are close ties between the company and school. Most teachers for the Conservatory are company dancers who hold college degrees or teaching certifications in dance. By participating in rehearsals, students have the opportunity to see their teachers in action. Benta Owino, a high school junior who splits her time between our Grasonville and Annapolis locations, has loved that part of her experience.

Ballet students in black leotards and pink tights hold a pose in a dance studio.
Benta (far right) and other students of BTM rehearse their Act III dance.

Benta says, "I am grateful and filled with excitement to be performing in the Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of Sleeping Beauty in a student role. It is an honor to be part of this and to have the opportunity to dance alongside the company. One of my favorite moments is when we present Princess Aurora, one of my teachers, for the opening of the pas de deux. I can’t wait to share the magic of this timeless ballet with the audience."

She refers to Victoria Siracusa, who (along with fellow principal Lauren Martinez) will premiere as Princess Aurora later this month. Seeing a beloved teacher perform makes the experience all the more meaningful. While this can inspire older students, for young students in the school it can make rehearsals a little less scary. Although the more experienced dancers have had years of performing with the company, the first few experiences can be intimidating. Reese Poole, an 11-year-old dancer who has already performed with us a number of times, relates what it was like becoming comfortable with the company:

"When I started doing the professional shows, I was a little overwhelmed by all of the parts and intricate choreography, but I have seen that the professionals want to be your friend and they like seeing the younger dancers, so I love talking to them now. It is really fun to be in a production with more experienced dancers because whenever I do one, when it is over, I always feel more compelled to continue dancing and working really hard to get that solo or be in that number when I grow up."

Ballet students in black leotards pose on their knee in a dance studio.
Reese (third from left) poses at the end of the Garland Waltz.

Long-Term Benefits

Positive impacts like these are what makes these opportunities so worthwhile for students. Young dancers learn new choreography and get time onstage, but the skills they develop--confidence, resilience, a strong work ethic, and teamwork--will support them no matter where the future takes them. Most importantly, the memories they make are ones they may treasure for the rest of their lives.

This is definitely the case for Julie Polyniak, who grew up dancing with Ballet Theatre of Maryland. She continues to light up the room in weekly adult classes and regularly attends performances, but as a child she also performed with the company in Sleeping Beauty. She has this to say about what the company has meant to her:

Julie Polyniak smiles for the camera

"As a student dancer, performing with BTM gave me the opportunity to experience the excitement of performing in a professional setting from a young age. Dancing alongside such talented, disciplined artists confirmed my love for ballet, a passion of mine that has become a lifelong practice. BTM is a special place that encourages dancers of all ages to enjoy dance in a supportive environment, a place where I have now taken adult ballet classes for about 15 years. Although I am no longer performing, I feel lucky to take classes taught by company members of BTM, whom I frequently support from the audience. I love watching performances featuring young student dancers knowing they may one day become members of the BTM company themselves."

Julie's love and commitment for ballet is something BTM strives to impart to others. As we work closely with the Conservatory students during rehearsals, we hope to create the same happy experience that Julie remembers. If we do it right, it will rub off on our performance, as well.

Catch these students dancing alongside the company in Sleeping Beauty, April 26 & 27. Tickets are still available for this timeless classic! To learn more about training with BTM, visit the Conservatory section of our website.

Student dancers run in front of professional dancers in an elegant pose.
Conservatory students rehearse as pages in the Prologue.

Rehearsal photos by Lauren Martinez.

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Thank you for sharing this post and for your dedication to our Saturday morning adult ballet class. The grace and professionalism of the company members is a joy to watch on stage and draws out the talents of the student dancers as well. -Ann Pennington

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Thank you so much, Ann! That’s something that is so important to us as an organization. 💛

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