Extraordinary You will be a regular feature on the chronicles. Our goal is to showcase tween and teen girls who are doing extraordinary things with their time and talents. Our first Extraordinary You girl comes with a beautiful and inspiring story of skill, hard work, and determination. Juliana Debellis is a high school student and pre-professional ballerina. Besides that, she’s an intelligent and hard working honor role student. How did she get where she is today? Read her story and find out!
1. How did you become involved in ballet? How old were you?
I first started ballet at three years old when my mom saw how much I loved to dance and move and signed me up for a class at a small, local studio.
2. Where are you currently in your ballet training?
I am currently at the pre-professional level in my training. I attend ballet and a variety of other dance classes six days a week, anywhere from 2 to 5 hours a day. Pre-professional level means that you are taking rigorous classes designed to prepare a student for a professional ballet career. I take a variety of ballet, pointe technique, variations, partnering, strengthening, and modern ballet and modern freestyle. I also participate in our annual Nutcracker production. This gives me wonderful experience with various solos as well as being in the corps de ballet.
I also attend ballet summer intensives at professional ballet companies. This is very necessary for the career intended ballet dancer. It allows the dancer to train at a very high level with a variety of dance classes. They can last anywhere from 3-6 weeks during the summer and you are dancing every day, all day. It really gives you the reality of what professional dancers do on a daily basis. And it gives you a chance to make connections with various companies and make a lot of new friends. In the past I have attended intensives with American Ballet Theater, Ballet Austin, and Kansas City Ballet.
3. You’re a busy high school student. What is your schedule like and how do you fit in studying with your training?
My schedule is constantly hectic. Most dancers who are training at my level are homeschooled in order to allow for easier scheduling, but I chose to continue to attend high school full time. When I get home, I’m usually rushing to get dressed to go to ballet, and school adds another level of stress to something that’s already physically and emotionally demanding. I usually try to finish as much homework as I can before leaving for ballet, but I almost always end up staying up late studying. While it may not seem worth it, there are still benefits to continuing my education at a normal school. Without it, it would be easy to have no life outside of the ballet world and completely lose that part of myself. It also helps better prepare me academically for attending a university in which I could work towards a degree in ballet.
4. Ballet is so beautiful and graceful, but it can be very hard on the body. How do you help ease the strain on your body?
Every dancer has their own routine that is specific to their body’s needs. Personally, I could not dance like I do without my chiropractor. He has worked with many dancers, and knows my specific problems while also acting as part physical therapist and giving me exercises to overcome and prevent injuries. Also a personal necessity for injury prevention is Pilates. I take sessions from a professional instructor every other week as cross training to strengthen muscles I normally don’t think about as much in ballet class.
I also have a variety of tools to help roll out the muscles and I use a homemade magnesium lotion and various essential oils which helps the muscles recover more quickly.
5. What is your favorite role you’ve danced or been cast in so far?
My favorite role so far continues to be Clara from the ballet, The Nutcracker. Being cast as the lead was such a huge moment for me, and actually performing the role was a dream come true. Because the role of Clara requires the dancer to be of a certain age, but also requires them to have a strong level of technique, it’s a difficult role to acquire. If you are at the right age, but don’t have the technique or if you are too old, you won’t be cast. It’s a role that most of the little girl ballerinas dream of, but few will be given. So it was a huge honor to be chosen.
6. Tell us about your favorite costume!
While I love the variety of flat, platter tutus I have been able to wear, my favorite costume is actually that of the Columbine Doll in my studio’s production of the Nutcracker. Layers of stiff, pink tulle make up the tutu and come together at the waist where the smooth overlay and corset are decorated with various sparkling colors. The final touch, a large bow, is a personal favorite hair piece. This is one of the most coveted costumes in the production due to not only its loveliness, but for what it represents. The part is given to up-and-coming dancers in the studio, and as a featured role in the first act, offers the opportunity for a dancer to begin to work her way up through the ranks. It requires a certain level of technique and artistry, so being given this role is a sign that the directors are noticing your hard work.
7. What is your ultimate dream role?
While I have many specific roles I would love to perform, I tend to focus more on the dream ballets on a whole. In the dance world, not every ballet is available to be performed by every company. Many are heavily copyrighted and hard to obtain. Ballets by the choreographer George Balanchine are only a few examples of this. Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and Serenade are on my dream ballet list along with In Creases, choreographed by Justin Peck, and others by Christopher Wheeldon. Specific story ballets such as L’Histoire de Manon, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, La Fille Mal Gardée, and Cinderella also occupy space on that ever-growing list.
8. What advice do you have for girls who’d like to begin taking ballet lessons?
For someone just starting out, I would say to have fun! Ballet is hard and there are many people who have a hard time getting over the initial challenges of learning the lingo and training their muscles. It’s important to remember that you are doing this for FUN. I would also say, it’s never too late to start. I have a friend who started ballet at 11 years old and loved it. She’s now16 and really enjoys going to ballet for fun and recreation. And she’s a ballet fan for life.
I would tell young dancers that they need to stay focused on ballet. It’s really easy to get caught up in the other genres of dance, but even modern and hip dancers take ballet class because it is the root of all dance.
If a young dancer decides they want to go pro, they need to have a plan for their training and a good strategy. I would suggest making sure they had good, well rounded training and a teacher that would give them clean, not too stylized technique while still exposing them to various styles. Also, they should know that they don’t need to focus on getting into the large companies. It’s easy to get caught up in the big name ballet schools, but that doesn’t always mean they are the best option for every dancer. Go to the school where you feel you are going to grow as a dancer and an artist. Don’t get caught up with what other dancers are doing. Every dancer has their own path they need to follow. Some go to big companies; some go to small. Some to pro at 18, some go to college before going pro. Some start going to summer intensives at 10 years old, some start going at 15. It’s all about what is right for each individual.
And lastly, be prepared to make the best friends you will ever know. Dancers are amazing people full of life, art, and kindness. I have made amazing, lifelong friends through my ballet journey and I don’t know what I would do with them there to encourage and support me.
Thank you, Juliana, for sharing your extraordinary story. We have no doubt that you’ll continue to go far and we wish you the best of luck and success in your ballet dreams.
*preview shot by Dustin Singler, Singler Photography