Ballet Stars

Dancer Spotlight: Devin Larsen

Larsen in The Nutcracker (photo by Jana Carson, Courtesy OKC Ballet)

In her first season as a corps member with Oklahoma City Ballet, Devin Larsen stood among the 17 dancers who made the audience gasp as the curtain came up on Balanchine's Serenade. But her path to getting there would make anyone gasp.

At age 3, Larsen was diagnosed with epilepsy. She averaged 20 complex partial seizures per day, which eventually turned into the more serious kind, generalized tonic seizures, where she would fall and completely lose consciousness. “Your brain just shuts down," she says.


Until she was nearly 10, she was on four medications with serious side effects, which included a loss of balance and coordination. After noticing that dance classes had helped Larsen's brother do better in school, her mother decided to enroll her as well. The goal was to build brain connections lost during the seizures, and help with balance and control.

Through intensive research, her mother also learned of the ketogenic diet, which is low in carbs, high in fat and moderate in protein. The diet has been known to control seizures in some people with epilepsy, and doctors may recommend it to patients who haven't responded to medications. “The diet forces the body to burn fat instead of carbs," says Larsen. “Being in a state of ketosis"—the name of this process—“somehow helps the brain stop the seizures." Over a period of two years, she was able to be slowly weaned off all of her meds, and became epilepsy-free before her 10th birthday.

Still, the seizures left her with some developmental delays. The Utah native wasn't anywhere near her peers when she began training at Ballet West Academy at age 8. “I had to play catch-up and work really hard," Larsen remembers. During the time she had epilepsy, she had lost about three years in terms of cognitive development, which made things like learning choreography extra-difficult.

Larsen trained at Ballet West for 12 years. A major confidence boost came from working with former Joffrey dancer Calvin Kitten, while preparing for her final performance with the academy. It was a particularly low moment, as she had auditioned at several places without receiving a contract. “He always pushed me and knew my capability," she says. Kitten recalls her talent and maturity easily. “I saw a lovely quality to her movement, and such artistry at a young age," he says. His dedication and interest radically changed her attitude toward her future. “I told myself I needed to make this happen no matter what," she says.

From there, she went on to her first professional job at Central West Ballet in Modesto, California. A summer intensive at Oklahoma City Ballet in 2014 led to an apprentice contract, and after two years she was promoted to corps de ballet for the 2016–17 season.

Larsen advises those having to overcome obstacles to not be “scared that others will treat you differently. Take your time in finding what works for you." Today, she no longer needs to adhere to the strict diet, but she always eats enough protein and fat for brain health. Learning choreography comes much easier, too. Still, “sometimes I find myself getting really frustrated," says Larsen, “but then I have to remember that it is a blessing to be where I am."

Her goals are now more focused on dancing her dream roles, including Juliet, Cinderella and Nicolo Fonte's Bolero. “I want to keep improving," she says. “I am finally on the path I want to be."

Fun Facts

Animal lover: “I rescue animals, bring them back to health and then find homes for them. I also have two dogs and three cats."

Non-dance hobby: “On nights off I go bowling. I'm pretty good at it, too."

Favorite foods: “I eat a lot for a ballet dancer. I like steak and mashed potatoes."

Show Comments ()
Trending
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's June/July 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Ballet Stars
Jacques d'Amboise and Adrian Danchig-Waring in conversation at the National Dance Institute. Photo Courtesy NDI.

"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Courtesy Soffe, Dicsount Dance Supply, Danskin. LeaMarie leotard photographed by Jayme Thornton

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joffrey Ballet dancers Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez in "Giselle." Photo Courtesy Spring to Dance Festival.

For the first time since its inception 11 years ago, Dance St. Louis' annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival — May 25 and 26 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center — will be curated by someone other than festival founder Michael Utoff. That job fell to newly hired programming consultant Terence Marling.

Hailed as "arguably the best dance buffet in the Midwest" by the Chicago Tribune, the popular festival is known for championing lesser-known regional dance artists and companies. It will retain that focus under Marling, along with representation by more familiar names such as Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Marling's former company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

La Fille Mal Gardée, or in English "The Wayward Daughter," is one of the oldest story ballets still in modern repertoire. The tale's enduring magic lies in themes of youth, following your heart and true love, along with playful bits of entertainment, like the clog dance and ribbon pas de deux. As Lise, Russian-born ballerina Valentina Kozlova captures the character's spirited innocence. Dancing alongside her as her beloved Colas is Chris Jensen, star of Switzerland's Basel Ballet. This clip of their ribbon pas de deux from Basel Ballet's 1986 film is as lighthearted and charming as it is technically brilliant.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I'm 15 and want to be a professional ballet dancer. I have ballet five times a week, contemporary once a week and rehearsals year-round. It is 15 to 20 hours a week. When I hear about dancers doing 30-plus hours a week, I worry that I dance too little. Is my schedule enough? —Caroline

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!