Tiny Dancers

March 22, 2017

It’s easy to think of professional dancers as perfect beings who’ve been perfect since day one. But what if we could turn back the clock to when they first discovered dance? We asked some of our favorite dancers to share their earliest dance memories. What they had to say is sure to leave you in awwww.

(Photo courtesy Karine Plantadit)

Karine Plantadit, Broadway dancer

“One of my favorite dance memories was when, at 14, I traveled from my home in Douala, Cameroon, to audition for the Rosella Hightower school in Cannes, France. During the 15-day training program before the audition, I skipped every ballet class to go to the beach. When it was finally time for the audition, I was shocked to find that it was ballet. I asked, ‘Where’s the jazz audition?’ But there was no jazz audition. My ballet training was horrible, but I had to try. I borrowed everything for my outfit—pink tights, a leotard, bobby pins—and my friends helped me put my hair up in a huge bun. I gave it everything I had: pure passion, pure love and very little skill. Then it was time to call the names of accepted students. I remember the teacher saying in front of everyone, ‘She’ll be in the school even though she doesn’t have the skill. We’ll train her to get the skill.’ My life changed that day.”


(Photo courtesy Tyne Stecklein)

Tyne Stecklein, Commercial dancer

“I started ballet classes at age 3 at Miller’s Dance Studio in Aurora, CO, where my mom Andra Stecklein was (and still is) a dance teacher. Around age 5, I became really serious about each exercise at the barre. I wasn’t chatty and playful in class like the other kids—I was so focused on doing everything perfectly.”






(Photo courtesy Evelyn Kocak)

Evelyn Kocak, Soloist, Pennsylvania Ballet

“My first dance class was a creative movement class at a senior citizen center. I was 3, so I don’t really remember it, but I have an early video from a parent observation day. I wore my idea of a ballet costume: purple tights, a pink ruffle top, a large purple bow and pink polka-dotted canvas shoes. We did a few ballet exercises, and then we ran around with scarves pretending to be animals. I liked pretending to be a butterfly or a pony.”





(Photo courtesy Jacqueline Burnett)

Jacqueline Burnett, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

“When I was 5, I took my first ballet class at Studio 1 in Pocatello, ID. My teacher was a very intimidating 70-year-old Romanian man. When I got to class, I was overwhelmed by his huge presence. He was very strict, and he smelled like cigarettes. Between barre and center, I remember going to the parent viewing area and crying to my mom. The teacher saw me and said, ‘Oh, no! Why is she crying?’ I was so embarrassed, but I drank some of my mom’s cranberry juice and went back to class.”






Jordan Kriston (second from the left) with her classmates in Phoenix, AZ (photo courtesy Jordan Kriston)

Jordan Kriston, Pilobolus

“My community in Phoenix, AZ, offered free kids’ dance classes at the mall, and that’s where I began at age 5. I distinctly remember grasping the concept of putting my ballet or jazz shoes on the correct feet. I was barefoot a lot in Phoenix because it was so hot, so this was a relatively new idea for me. I remember noticing how funny the other little dancers looked when they had their shoes on the wrong feet.”



Brian (left) and Scott Nicholson in show choir (photo courtesy Brian Nicholson)

Brian & Scott Nicholson (twins!), Ariana Grande dancers

“Sophomore year of high school, Scott and I both auditioned for the Mustang Express Show Choir—yes, like on ‘Glee’—and made it! After just a few weeks of dancing, we became dance captains. There were a lot of show choir moves, like jazz squares, step-touch-clapping, and cheesy performance faces.” —Brian

“Well, if we want to get technical about it, we didn’t take our first dance class until we were 20. We took jazz for gym credit at The University of Akron. Imagine this: two semi–awkward-looking twins with bowl cuts, jabbering to each other while they tried to figure out the choreography. We’d just get so excited!” —Scott

“We may disagree on when our actual first class was, but we both feel like we found ourselves when we started dancing. Our dad, who passed away when we were 11, used to whisper to us, ‘You’re gonna be song and dance men.’ ” —Brian


Jennifer Lauren (left) and her sister (photo by American Shutterbug Inc., courtesy Jennifer Lauren)

Jennifer Lauren, Soloist, Miami City Ballet

“When I was 3 years old, my mom took me with her to enroll my older sister in ballet class at Martha Jamison School of Ballet in Tuscaloosa, AL. I started crying because I wanted to take ballet class, too. My mom asked the teacher if I was too young to register. The teacher asked, ‘Is she potty trained?’ Because I was, I was able to enroll. “We have a video of my first recital on tape. I was dressed as a sea turtle. When the girl next to me started messing up, I went over to her and put her arm in fifth position, where it was supposed to be. The whole audience was cracking up!”







Jessica Lee Keller with her first ballet teacher (photo courtesy Jessica Lee Keller)

Jessica Lee Keller, Commercial dancer

“I fell in love with dance from my very first ballet class. I was 6, and it was at a studio in Marquette, MI. I remember my family came to watch me in an open class, and my teacher asked me to show my parents how I could stand right up on my tiny little toes like Kate Winslet in Titanic! I was excited to explore what my body could do. Ever since I first chasséd across that floor, holding hands with another little dancer, smiles on our faces, I knew dance was going to be a part of me forever.”