Weekdays, Small attends school from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., after which she scoots to the Richmond Ballet, where she practices until 6:30 p.m. Then, on some nights, it's off to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College for more classes. Her Saturdays are devoted to practices at the Ballet.
Small is in her second year in the Richmond Ballet Trainee Program, a pre-professional training track for the Ballet. "The program is designed for young dancers who are seriously preparing for a career in dance and have the talent and drive to pursue a career," explains Judy Jacob, Richmond Ballet artistic associate and school director. Trainees perform with the Richmond Ballet professional company, as needed. Small has appeared in "The Nutcracker," "Cinderella," "Balanchine's Serenade" and "Who Cares?" ballets as a trainee dancer. As a student, Small appeared in the coveted role of Clara in "The Nutcracker" at age 12.
Recently tapped for the National Honor Society at school, Small recalls her first dance class. She was 3. "I remember wanting to go to class and enjoying it," she says. "I would think about being a prima ballerina."
Her passion was reinforced by watching the ballet her mother had season tickets and took Small and her best friend. She started classes at the Richmond Ballet when she was 4.
"It was amazing to watch her float around and pirouette when she was little," recalls Small's mother, Vera. "She was mesmerized by the ballet. She has always wanted to dance. When I first saw her onstage when she was Clara in 'The Nutcracker,' I was excited, so proud of her. When I saw her as the Candied Rose Petal I thought 'She is really a dancer. She's going to be a ballerina.'"
Jacob believes that Small is a natural onstage. "She is completely in her element, and as an audience member, you can't help but look at her. Her beauty and grace are genuine. As a dancer, she is very versatile. Her main goal is to be a ballet dancer; however, she also is accomplished and effective in jazz and modern forms of dance."
Even though dance has been a strong force in her life, Small has also participated in horseback riding, roller skating and playing piano hobbies she still enjoys but finds little time for. As a second-year trainee at the Richmond Ballet, Small devotes her time to fine-tuning her dance techniques, realizing that her role as trainee serves as a steppingstone to the company. "I can't believe I am doing this," she says with childlike wonderment. "I get to leave school early to do something I love so much."
Currently, there are 19 trainees in the program Small is one of the youngest. "I remember when I was in middle school and the training program was forming," Small says. "A couple of high-school girls paved the way for us. I remember planning out what steps I would have to take to be a trainee."
In February, she will dance in "Coppelia" with the company. "When we are performing it's the most exhilarating feeling in the world," she says. "Being up onstage and doing something you love so much and knowing that other people are enjoying it as well is such a powerful emotion."
Juggling school and dance becomes more difficult during rehearsals for performance. "We work late into the night," Small says. "I have to do my homework first. I can't procrastinate. I usually don't get home until after midnight, so I get tired. I have to eliminate sleep for a while."
An honor-roll student, Small has honed her organizational abilities. "She got a sense of discipline from Richmond Montessori, where she attended school until the 8th grade, and from ballet," explains her mother, a teacher in the city school system. "It stems from her being able to track what she is doing. She's very organized. I've never had to get after her about her grades. It all comes from her."
Looking ahead, Small is focused on becoming a professional ballerina. She's fully aware of what that may mean financially. "I'm not afraid of being a starving artist," she says. "Dance is worth it to me." FS
Richmond Ballet presents "Coppelia"at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, Feb. 14 and 15. Visit the amazing toyshop of Dr. Coppelius and find out if the dolls come to life. For tickets call 804-262-8100.
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