Juneau Sends Dancers Around The Country And Beyond

Duvernay will be a sophomore at JDHS in the fall and New will be entering 11th grade. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Duvernay will be a sophomore at JDHS in the fall and New will be entering 11th grade. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Several Juneau teenagers are heading to the nation’s best dance programs this summer – one is even going to Russia. Within the next few weeks, five students from Juneau Dance Unlimited will leave Alaska to practice their techniques and expand their horizons in New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, Houston, and Moscow.

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14-year-old Marissa Truitt has been dancing for ten years.

“You just get such a great feeling when you dance, a really good feeling that I don’t get from doing anything else.”

For 16-year-old Maire New, dance is discipline.

“You’re always striving towards perfection in dance, so for me that’s really a fun thing to work on every day.”

Summer for most teenagers is the time to relax and spend time with friends. For these girls, summer means dancing in some of the country’s most competitive and rigorous programs. Truitt is heading to the Pittsburg Ballet Theater. New will start with a 3-week program at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York City, then travel to Moscow for further intensive dance study and language acquisition.

15-year-old Gabrielle Duvernay says dance is a priority.

“It always comes first, I mean my family of course, but it definitely comes before friends. It’s mainly in the front of my mind all the time.”

In January, Duvernay traveled to Seattle to audition in front of artistic directors and ballet masters from the country’s best dance companies. She applied for five programs, got into two, was waitlisted for one, and finally decided on the Boston Ballet School.

All three girls dance up to 7 days a week. On at least three of these days, they’re at JDU’s studio taking classical technique ballet class with artistic director Philip Krauter.

Krauter describes his teaching style as demanding yet kind.

“The ones that are serious about their training usually are self-critical themselves; they don’t need any more from me. I try to give them as much positive, correct information as I can to train them properly and then it’s up to them to take it and do something with it.”

Truitt says there is a lot of pressure from other girls associated with dancing in these summer programs, “especially during auditions, like weird eye looks at people and like, ‘Am I better than her?’ and all this really unnecessary pressure.”

When asked how she deals with that, Truitt says, “You just have to ignore everything and focus on you and the teacher and the music and know what you’re doing and realizing that you love ballet, you’ll do it no matter what, even if people are judging you.”

Despite the stress and self-criticism, the girls see the upside of working hard and pursuing their passion. For New, ballet has opened doors to the Russian language. When she studied dance at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York City last year, her teachers taught in Russian.

“If you would be going across the floor and they’d yell, ‘Khorosho’. That would mean good, so that was nice to hear, and then if you were doing something wrong, they might say, ‘Net’, which means no, but they might say it multiple times; that’s really bad.”

As a recipient of a competitive scholarship through the US Department of State, New will spend six weeks this summer in Moscow studying Russian language, culture and ballet at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

Dancers at this level rely on their families for emotional and financial support. Tuition and housing for the summer dance programs cost around 5-thousand dollars; airfare is separate. Truitt worked as a dance assistant at JDU and saved 8-hundred-dollars to help pay program fees. New has applied for fine arts scholarships through the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

Dancing is a family affair. New’s father is a veterinarian and her mother, Diana Ross-Miller, works at his clinic. She says being a supportive parent involves endless encouragement and sacrifices.

“Certainly the time involved in just simply having her be at the studio so much dancing and training is very intense and takes away from other possibilities. Like for example, on this beautiful day, we might not be going to the beach for a long walk with our dog because we’re taking her to the studio to go dance, so there are definitely trade-offs but we think in the long run it’s really worth it.”

The girls, including Duvernay, hope all the sacrifices, training, and auditions will lead to a dance career, “but I also am going to college. That’s one definite that I’ve always kept through my life. I’m going to college because if I get a career crushing injury then I have to have something to fall back on. I can’t just rely on my body for my whole life. I think I’m going to get a business degree,” Duvernay says.

Truitt says if she can’t be a professional dancer, she’d like to attend college and become a nutritionist or physical therapist. New’s ultimate dream is to join a professional ballet company after high school and get her college degree while dancing.