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She’s only been taking ballet classes for three years, but 13-year-old Dayanara Villanueva is already a rising star in the dance world.

Last summer, Villanueva spent her days learning from the world’s top ballet dancers at one of the country’s most prestigious dance schools, the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City.

Villanueva’s ballet teacher, Kelly Harris of the Cygnus Creative Arts Centre in Egg Harbor Township, said she saw something special in Villanueva and encouraged her to try out for the program.

“It’s not always just about talent, it’s about the drive,” Harris says of Villaneuva. “She’s very driven, and she’s one of those students that’s quiet and contemplative, and a bit of a perfectionist.”

Villanueva says she loves ballet so much because of the close connection she has with Harris.

“My teacher is really nice and explains everything well,” Villanueva says. “She’s like another mom to me. She’s the one who has taught me since the beginning. She’s really patient with me, because I don’t do things really well all the time. If you get something wrong, she goes over it with you.”

When Villanueva received the acceptance email from the Joffrey Ballet School, she immediately sent a screenshot to Harris. When Villanueva arrived at the two-week summer program, she was didn’t know what to expect from the prestigious school.

“I was nervous because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do things,” she says. “I thought I’d have to do difficult things. But when I got to the first class we all introduced ourselves and it was just really fun.”

Harris says she sent Villanueva text messages every day during the program, telling her to stay at the front of the class so she could learn as much as possible.

Following Harris’s advice, Villanueva says she was able to enjoy the lessons and absorb everything the instructors told her. The instructors showed Villanueva how to align her hips while performing extensions and properly point her feet. She says the teachers would use their hands to slide her foot across the floor and guide it to a perfect point.

“I got to learn different types of perspectives,” she says. “Every teacher teaches a different way.”

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