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High school dancers develop sisterhood on stage

When teenagers reminisce about their early childhood years, they often remember the seemingly endless freedom to be with their friends and play after school. In contrast, many of my early memories, along with Ginger Page, a senior at Amherst Central High School, center on enormous mirrors and gray floors – we grew up as dancers.

Countless children dream of becoming gracious ballerinas like those they see on television. However, even from the age of 3, this whimsical fantasy can develop into a passion.

As a child, Ginger loved dancing with her older sister.

“[That’s why] my parents first signed me up for lessons. I loved pointing my toes,” Ginger said.

When I was little, I spent hours dancing around the house. I walked on my toes so often that my baby sitter, also a dancer, suggested to my parents that I enroll in ballet classes.

From the beginning of my creative movement class at the Royal Academy of Ballet and Dance, I loved moving to music and playing games with the other girls. On sunny days, I would sometimes beg to stay home and play outside, but as the time to leave for class drew near, I always changed my mind and left the sun-bathed yard for the fluorescent lights of the studio.

Ginger’s passion for dance began to take root in her creative movement classes at a local community church. In her weekly class, they pretended that they were seeds and the teacher “watered each girl,” she recalls.

“We had to expand, and dance as if we were growing into beautiful flowers,” Ginger said. “This particularly inspired my love of port de bras, which is the carriage of the arms in dance.”

As Ginger and I grew older, we developed a hunger for more dance classes. We began to take more ballet. Ginger also added jazz and tap, while I eventually added those classes along with lyrical and modern.

Of course, with our commitment to dance, we frequently had to miss out on activities such as sleepovers and school dances, but neither Ginger nor I have regrets.

“I always gained something from attending rehearsals [and classes], and I feel that learning and growing [as a dancer] is more important than attending” every social activity, Ginger said.

Ginger and I take 12 dance classes per week in the styles of ballet, pointe, lyrical and modern at the Royal Academy of Ballet and Dance. I also take a weekly tap class on Fridays. Throughout our high school years, we also have been active members of the Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet. We have had many roles over the past four years. In the final weeks before a GBYB performance, we dance between 24 and 30 hours per week.

During our freshman year, we danced as Good Fairies and in the Garland Dance in GBYB’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” Sophomore year, we were princesses in “The Firebird,” in which Ginger also performed as a Captured Maiden. In the holiday show “Three Wishes,” we both performed in Peace Scene, and I performed as a Candy Cane as well. We also performed excerpts from “The Nutcracker” such as Waltz of the Flowers Corps and Spanish. In our junior year, we performed as Friends of Swanilda and in Danse of the Hours Corps in “Coppelia.” We also have performed various roles in annual galas and outreach performances.

One thing that all of those roles have in common is that they involve a group of dancers, called a corps. I have learned so much from dancing with a corps, including the importance of communication in creating successful projects and coordination in dancing in sync with many different people.

Ginger agrees.

“Although we don’t call ourselves ‘a team,’ we possess something bigger than that,” she said. “We are a family, working toward the same goal to ensure a spectacular performance.”

Dancing in the corps is hard work. It is the dancers’ responsibility to compliment the movements of the soloist.

This year, Ginger and I earned our first solos. In the Christmas performance of “Three Wishes,” Ginger was the Healing Wish and I was the Peace Wish. We were ecstatic.

“I was thrilled that it was my turn to take up the whole stage, and prove to myself that all of my dedication had been worth it,” Ginger said.

I was excited beyond belief. As a 5-year-old performing in GBYB productions, I viewed the soloists with wonder, as if they were celebrities. I could not even fathom that I might soon have the same effect on another little girl.

While dancing with a corps has its difficulties, dancing as a soloist presents its own challenges.

“You have to be at your peak, as you are completely responsible for your role,” Ginger said. “Instead of working with others, you must know all of your steps yourself.”

The GBYB is currently preparing for its production of “Cinderella.”

I am performing the roles of the Fairy Godmother and the Summer Fairy. I also am the understudy for the role of Cinderella.

These roles are exciting because I feel involved with the storyline of the ballet. Also, the role of the Fairy Godmother presents challenges in choreography, which requires control and precision, and has helped me improve as a dancer.

As Fairy Godmother, I get to act kind and caring toward Cinderella. Ginger, however, has a role that departs from her personality. She will be dancing the role of Anastasia, Cinderella’s simple and affected stepsister.

“As Anastasia, I must do a lot of acting and make the audience laugh,” she said. “Although I act every time I perform, this role is much different than any I’ve danced before.”

The rehearsal process has been amazing. For me, it feels wonderful not only to practice my solo but also to dance with all of the other Fairies. The rehearsal for the stepfamily is never boring. Everyone practices their acting skills to produce convincing and hilarious results.

“Cinderella” will be bittersweet for Ginger and me since it is our final GBYB performance before we graduate. Both of us plan to continue dancing throughout college, with Ginger pursuing a dance degree.

Ginger and I are grateful for the ways dance has shaped us as individuals. By spending each day with our dance friends and our studio director, Elizabeth DiStasio-Waddell, or “Ms. Beth,” we have learned determination, time management, and above all, an irrepressible love for the art of dance.

Ms. Beth has always told us to focus on the “five Ps”: – passion, practice, positivity, perseverance and presence – a lesson we will take with us throughout life.

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The Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet will present “Cinderella” at 7:30 p.m. March 28 at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre on the North Campus in Amherst. Tickets, $19.50-$23.50, are available at the UB box office (www.ubcfa.org/tickets).

Tracy Werick is a senior at City Honors.