Eleven-year-old Stella DiPasquale is preparing to make her debut as Marie this weekend in Fadeyev Ballet's Nutcracker in Greenvale, New York. Decked out in curls and party frills onstage, she'll stand out as the lucky girl who is given a nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. In rehearsals, however, she stands out for another reason, too: DiPasquale, who suffers from alopecia, has no hair.
Stella DiPasquale (far left, in purple) as Marie's friend in Fadeyev Ballet's The Nutcracker last year. DiPasquale prefers to wear a wig onstage to be more fully in character.
Courtesy Fadeyev Ballet
Alopecia is an autoimmune skin disease that affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population, causing hair loss on some or all of the head or body. DiPasquale, a sixth-grader from Glen Head, NY, was diagnosed about a year ago. Her hair first fell out in patches, but within a few months, she had lost her hair completely.
Yet DiPasquale is hardly fazed by the trauma of the past year. "We bought a lot of wigs at first," she says, laughing. While she plans to wear a wig onstage to be fully in character as Marie, in rehearsals, class and everyday life, she prefers to go natural, finding it most comfortable without wigs or hats, especially in ballet class. DiPasquale, who's been dancing since she was two and also does gymnastics and aerial silks, couldn't abide by anything that got in the way of her flying through the air.
Courtesy Joy Jaworski
DiPasquale admits that after she lost her hair, it was easier to feel like herself at ballet, rather than at school. "All my friends are at ballet and I talk to them a lot," she says. In the close-knit studio environment, everyone knew what she was going through, while at school most of the other students were confused about what could be wrong. DiPasquale decided to get in front of her classmates' questions. She gave a presentation for her entire school to explain the disease and encouraged everyone to participate in a fundraiser she had organized for Wigs for Kids, a charity that provides free wigs to kids in need.
DiPasquale has the natural drive to be a leader, and the transition she's gone through in the past year has only compelled her to do more. Fadeyev Ballet's artistic director Slava Fadeyev and ballet mistress Juliana Fadeyev say that DiPasquale's leadership qualities are why they were confident in selecting her to dance Marie this year. "Stella has the work ethic and determination to dance the role, and she is fearless in her approach to trying something new," says Juliana. This year is DiPasquale's sixth time dancing Nutcracker, and as she talks about all the roles she's danced—soldiers, tea, candy cane, party girl—it brings her easy confidence into focus. She speaks of her rehearsal process for Marie as challenging, but fun, knowing her hard work in preparation will make her performances more relaxed and satisfying. DiPasquale will also be dancing the lead mouse in Fadeyev Ballet's production with the school's youngest students, a role which she is looking forward to just as much as Marie.
Stella DiPasquale in Fadeyev Ballet's production of La Bayadère last summer. Stella is in front on the far right.
Courtesy Fadeyev Ballet
DiPasquale aspires to dance professionally one day and cites Misty Copeland as one of her inspirations. It's not hard to draw a parallel between Copeland's influence on the ballet world and the fact that DiPasquale doesn't give a second thought about looking different than most other dancers. For anyone doubting their ability to find a place in the ballet world, DiPasquale speaks up in defiance. "I would tell everyone it's okay to dance," she says. She also notes that her lack of hair does make her stand out, but it also helps her to grow as a dancer. And at the end of the day, that's what matters to DiPasquale. From starting pointe work to understudying new roles, she's hardly preoccupied with what's on her head, but with all that she is learning.