Nashville Ballet's Kayla Rowser and Nicolas Scheuer in Swan Lake. Karyn Photography, Courtesy Nashville Ballet.

No One Said It Would Be Easy: 4 Pros on the Sacrifices They Made to Prioritize Training

Pre-professional ballet students know this to be true: Training comes first; everything else fits when—or if—it can. Are the sacrifices pre-professional ballet dancers make to pursue a highly competitive career worth it? Four professionals weigh in.


Jim Nowakowski: BalletMet Dancer

Nowakowski and BalletMet dancer Jessica Brown in rehearsal

Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet

At my home studio in Rochester, New York, during my high school years, I would train from 4–9:30 pm and then come home and do homework until 11:30 pm. I also traveled a lot competing in Youth America Grand Prix. I would ask for my work ahead of time so that I could leave early on Fridays. It was hard in a public school. My teachers wouldn't always understand, saying things like "You have to leave again?"

If you missed a certain number of classes at my school, you wouldn't get credit for that class. Once, I was about to leave for a competition, and my teacher warned me that it was something like my 16th day missing. We ended up working through it and I passed, but that was a big "oh my gosh" moment. On top of all of that, I wanted to put dancing, my passion, first. It was a lot, especially for someone who really likes a good eight to nine hours of sleep per night!

Because I was so dedicated to ballet and school, missing out on birthday parties and little things didn't affect me too much. But I know that for some people who are more socially involved, it is hard for them to choose. But I believe that an athlete needs to be really dedicated to their craft. You don't hear "They kind of did 50/50 and now they're making it." You hear "They sacrificed a lot." You have to put in the work.

Cassandra Trenary: American Ballet Theatre Soloist

Trenary in Don Quixote

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

One of the most incredible sacrifices in my training years, which wasn't necessarily made on my part, was my parents' decision to move our family from suburban Georgia to New York City so that I could attend ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. We went from a home with five bedrooms to a single-bedroom apartment for a family of four. I was about to start my junior year of high school and my younger brother was about to start his freshman year. He and I were essentially sharing a living space, and were at each other's throats more often than not.

But a few months in, we found our groove as a family and started to settle into this lifestyle. My dad made a career shift in the move, and to get some extra cash, my mom picked up hours at the Crumbs Bakery next door to our apartment building. I would go downstairs in the morning and visit her on my way to the train, and she would give me a baked good and a cup of coffee on my way out the door.

They had incredible belief in me and my abilities to pursue this dream. If I didn't get a contract at ABT, or even if I lost interest in a couple of years, they were open to the change in their own lives, as well. They had considered moving to Florida (where they ended up relocating after I got my contract) before the leap of faith in New York. I'm so grateful to my parents. They never once made me feel like I wasn't enough.

Kayla Rowser: Nashville Ballet Dancer

Rowser in Nashville Ballet's Swan Lake

Karyn Photography, Courtesy Nashville Ballet

I stayed local for my training near my hometown of Conyers, Georgia. I tested out a lot of different studios before finding the one in the Atlanta area that I was going to commit to for my high school years. I needed a more rigorous class schedule with teachers who had the expertise to help me reach my goal of a professional dance career. I found a studio about an hour away, the Maury Magdalena School of Classical Ballet. It had a youth company that performed multiple times a year, brought in many guest teachers and took us to Regional Dance America festivals. I realize that I was fortunate to have options. That's not going to be the case for everyone, depending on where they live, and I think that's when you have to start looking at bigger programs. I definitely considered it. But I don't feel that I sacrificed anything by choosing the local route.

Commuting to a more pre-professional studio that was almost an hour away made my demands at school harder, but it was absolutely worth it when I look at where I am now. Though it was difficult, I was able to balance extracurricular activities at school and somewhat of a normal social life while also being in the studio six to seven days a week. Sometimes that meant going to the football game but not going to dinner after with friends because I had rehearsal all day Saturday. I had some friends growing up who didn't necessarily understand what I was doing. Now they're still coming to see me dance, and they look back and they say, "Oh my gosh, that's why you had to leave early."

Lia Cirio: Boston Ballet Principal

Cirio as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

My family moved four hours away from my extended family when I was 14 so that I could attend Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Change is never easy at that age. My dad commuted to be with us on the weekends, so we didn't get to see our father as much as most people do, and I missed my grandmother and my cousins. It was a big sacrifice for my whole family, one for which I am forever grateful.

I was also homeschooled, and I graduated a year early to come to Boston because I got hired into the second company so young. While my cousins had graduation parties, my extended family didn't even acknowledge the fact that I graduated high school. It wasn't intentional, but like most people unfamiliar with the dance world, they didn't understand how hard I had to work to finish early, while training eight hours a day to become a ballet dancer.

I did feel some pressure because my parents had sacrificed so much. I wanted to make them happy and become what I thought I could become. But I think that ballet gives you a certain discipline. Even if you and your loved ones make those choices during your training years and it doesn't become your career, that discipline is so instilled in you that you'll excel at the next thing you decide to do. And now, it's funny—I may not have gotten to go to prom, but every year at Boston Ballet we have galas and you get to party and dress up. I'm like, "This is my prom!" You're going to have fun experiences, so don't think you're missing out on everything.

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After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

Last month, Victoria Morgan announced that she will step down as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. The organization's board of trustees has formed a committee to conduct a national search for her replacement.

Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.

Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.

A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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