Dream Big of Ballet: A Ballet Prodigy’s Plan to Dance Professionally

Julia

Her feet hurt and she’s a bit tired. It’s 6 o’clock on a Saturday, and she’s been dancing since nine that morning, not to mention every other night that week. She settles down to do some homework after a healthy dinner to keep her energy up. Before she can call it a night, she decides that it’s time for her cross training session on the elliptical before bed. Sunday will be a fun day of study groups with friends and relaxing before Monday hits, and her ballet training regime begins again.

Julia Rudlaff is currently a junior at Loy Norrix who intends to graduate early in 2018 so she can pursue her lifelong dream of ballet dancing. She has competitively danced for years and believes she is ready to try her chances in the elite ballet world.  Her goal is to dance for a professional ballet company for as long as she can after high school. Most professionals dance for about 10-15 years.

“[Dancing] has been my whole life,” said Julia.

Julia started dancing at the age of three. As a kid she was diagnosed with ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) and through dance she has been able to learn a variety of skills, including analytical focus and discipline that she was able to carry over into improving her focus at school.  Dancing also challenged Julia to think creatively on the fly. Julia found that the more she danced, the more she fell in love with it.

Before ballet she had been competitively dancing in modern, tap and jazz. Early on in her dance career, Julia decided that she wanted to dance competitively at a higher level, and because ballet is the base of all dance, Julia began taking more ballet classes at age nine to further her skills.

Alexey Kulpin, a ballet instructor from the Grand Rapids Ballet school, was teaching in Kalamazoo at the time Julia declared dance her serious passion, and it was once she began to take classes with him that her love for ballet really blossomed.

Julia said “[I] realized that I really loved it [ballet], and was fortunate to have . . . [physical] attributes better suited for ballet.”

By the age of 9 she was dancing 20-25 hours a week and even began to travel down to Chicago a couple times a week to take classes to strengthen her ballet skills. Julia explained how ballet varied from her previous dancing style.

Julia said, “It was very different than what I was used to, but I also liked that it was extremely challenging.”

Six years later Julia has taken classes all over the country, including New York, Houston and at the Washington School of Ballet, and she consistently dances for the Grand Rapids Ballet. By having all her credits in order, Julia has been approved for early graduation and plans to take one or two gap years after high school to get settled into a ballet company.

“I really want to stay at Grand Rapids Ballet for a year or two and stay home. . . but it’s a really competitive field, so you have to audition as many places [ballet companies] as you can,” said Julia.

This coming winter Julia will start to audition for various larger ballet companies, both by sending audition videos to companies further away and dancing in person for a representative in audition hotspots, such as Chicago. These auditions will include technique classes, a contemporary solo or variation of a dance solo, showing pointe and bar skills, amongst a few other things big companies want to see.

“There are nuances that change based on the company and what their reputation is,” said Julia.

Some companies look more at bar work and skill while others may include technique and a personal variation of a well-known solo dance.  

Her audition videos will be sent out to various companies, including the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet and the Cincinnati Ballet. She’d like to be in a traveling company that will allow her to see the world at the same time.

After settling into a company, Julia plans on taking some online college classes and would like to transfer to a college campus later on because she loves the classroom setting. Currently, Julia is not applying for any colleges because she isn’t sure where she will end up dancing.

“This year will be crazy because I’m gonna be doing some ballet competitions, auditions, and applying to college is basically equivalent to what I’m doing except for [ballet] trainee programs, “ said Julia. “So this will also require me to get together my resume and start making audition videos.”

When asked why she decided not to finish out her senior year of high school, Julia explained that 16-17 is prime age for many professional ballet dancers because a ballet career typically lasts only about 10-15 years due to the natural wear and tear the body experiences.

“I didn’t want to have any extra worries, I wanted it [high school] all tied up in a bow and done,” said Julia.

In preparation for upcoming auditions, Julia’s schedule is filled with a mix of school and constant dancing. She drives to Grand Rapids Ballet studio six times a week after school and dances from about 4-7:30 p.m. Home around 8:30 p.m. she works on her homework for a couple hours before cross training on an elliptical around 10 o’clock at night. On Saturdays she dances in Grand Rapids from 9-5 and Sundays are reserved for friends and studying.

On top of her busy dance life, Julia is also a Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) student. Her favorite classes are biomedical science and anatomy because they allow her to learn about her body and how it moves, which perfectly fits with her ballet interests.

As a busy year looms ahead for Julia, she expresses her parents’ side of the story, along with her fears about taking such a huge leap into the real world. She explained that a ballet career can be over in an instant because of an injury caused from something as simple as landing a jump wrong. Julia’s parents have been supportive but share the same concerns regarding a career ending injury.

“They like to know that I’m invested in both [academics and ballet] and they’re happy to know that I have a backup plan, so if something were to happen, I still have a strong academics background that I could use,” said Julia.

Lisa Rudlaff, Julia’s mom was initially on the fence about Julia’s ambitious goals.

I wanted her to experience the senior activities, senior moments and graduation with her friends,” said Lisa Rudlaff.

Now, she is in full support of Julia’s early graduation plans to start her ballet journey. She’s less nervous about her starting college later than usual because she knows her daughter gives everything she has to both her dancing and academics, but worries this will affect Julia’s ability to apply for scholarships and the Kalamazoo Promise.

“When the time is right, I have no reserve about Julia going to college and completing a degree in her next her next career path,” said Lisa Rudlaff.

As the time grows nearer Julia’s family grows excited for their daughter’s opportunity to further her dance career and have confidence in her abilities to reach professional dancing.

Julia has a sweet personality with a smile, stage presence and beautiful technique that draws an audience to her,” said Lisa Rudlaff.

With a big smile on her face and lots of enthusiasm, it’s easy to tell that Julia is excited to start her journey towards a professional ballet career.

“Not everyone’s version of success looks the same, so don’t be afraid if yours is especially unconventional,” said Julia.  

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