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Nurturing the Aspiring Dancer
With The Nutcracker opening this weekend, we’re taking a closer look at the journey of aspiring young dancer Selena Prince—from Baby Mouse to Academy Aspirant Dancer.
Selena began dancing at age three, according to her parents Monica and David Prince. She started her dance training with Eugene Ballet Academy (EBA) at age six. When the fall term begins for Academy students, many look forward to auditioning for the several student roles in Artistic Director Toni Pimble’s version of the holiday classic ballet. Selena took her first steps on the Hult Center Silva Concert Hall stage as a Baby Mouse, setting the stage for her to take on many more roles in seasons to come.
“Nutcracker has always held such a special place in my heart,” Selena said. “Growing up, I danced every role—from Baby Mice, Angels, Bon Bons, and Party Children to Waltz of the Flowers. As a student, Nutcracker rehearsals were always my favorite part of the year because I could watch and dance next to the professional dancers.”
As a member of the Academy’s student performance group, Eugene Ballet Youth (EBY), Selena danced in EBY’s shortened version of The Nutcracker, beginning at age 10. During those years, she had soloist roles including Clara, Doll, Spanish, and Sugar Plum Fairy. “We performed this production at local retirement communities and schools. Getting to see and interact with those audiences was always such a joy,” she said. “Sugar Plum Fairy was the most difficult role I performed, but also the most rewarding. It was also my first soloist role as a student dancer, so it holds special significance to me.”
And now, at age 18, and a recent Churchill High School and EBA graduate, Selena is embarking on her next steps in her dance education—as an Aspirant Dancer in the Academy’s Aspirant Program. This program, unique in many ways, has proven to be an exceptional path to success for many. Associate Artistic Director Jennifer Martin noted, “Our current season includes nearly all female dancers that have passed through the Aspirant Program, including Principal Dancers Danielle Tolmie and Sarah Kosterman.”
The Academy’s Aspirant Program focuses on practical experience. An Aspirant’s schedule follows company class, rehearsal, and performance schedules. Limited to six or seven aspiring professionals ranging from age 17 to 23, Aspirant Dancers have the option to participate in the program for two years. Unlike other pre-professional programs, tuition is waived. Jennifer explained, “We do not follow other models of charging young artists tuition to participate in a training program, only to be used as ‘filler’ in productions, and with no possible future within the organization itself.” The quality of this program continues to benefit from community members providing financial support, including sponsorship and housing.
Ken and Kenda Singer and Brick and Lissy Lantz are two families that continue to support the program. “Lissy and I have had the privilege of housing five Aspirants over the last few years. They have been delightful. It is exciting to see how this program has launched their future. I love seeing them on stage,” Brick said. Jennifer added, “Both of these families have been extremely generous. We are so fortunate to have their support and are grateful for the fact that they see the value in supporting these young aspiring artists.”
For Selena, the program is the pinnacle of her EBA training. “I am extremely excited to be able to turn my childhood dream into a reality. As an Aspirant, it’s exciting to be surrounded by the people I watched for years and dance beside them in new and more difficult roles. Recently, I performed in Anchorage, Alaska, with the company, which was such an incredible experience. We had a full house almost every night and got to meet many new student dancers. The experience made Nutcracker even dearer to me,” Selena said.
Selena’s parents, supporting her efforts since her first dance steps, expressed the importance of ballet in her life. “In our experience as parents, the importance of ballet for Selena is the ongoing development of self discipline and creative expression, while at the same time a constant call to humility and honesty when dealing with herself and others. It has held many opportunities for Selena to build strength, both inner and outer, and to learn to cooperate within a group setting.”
Like many proud Nutcracker parents, the shared joy as their child realizes their dreams is a special feeling. “Our favorite part of watching Selena perform is when the spirit of graceful movement channels through her. It’s like she carries you into the story and you can feel her connection to something greater than herself,” Monica and David explained.
As she takes the stage this Saturday at 2:00 pm for the first of seven performances of The Nutcracker, Selena looks forward to dancing both Waltz of the Flowers and Pirate Mice. “As an Academy student, I danced a small part in the Waltz, but this season my role is much longer and more challenging. The Dream with the Mouse King is a fun scene, and I am excited to be part of the comedic relief,” she said.
Keep an eye out for our Aspirant Dancers as you enjoy The Nutcracker: Bina Anvari, Elena Brein, Elizabeth King, Noelle Louise, Siobhan Nickell, Katherine Wolfenden, and Selena! Jennifer added, “The Aspirant Dancers’ strength, artistry, and ability are truly impressive. We are immensely proud and feel very fortunate to work with such gifted individuals.”
Our Aspirants represent the present and the future of our company. Learn more about the Aspirant Program and invest in creating a professional future for these dancers HERE.
Written by Jerril Nilson
Photos by Elizabeth Hults, Katie Patrick, Moderne Studio, and The Prince Family