Featured Students - Laura Jakowenko
It has been a special treat to have Laura, who is a Radio City Rockette, join us for ballet class this summer. Read about her inspiring journey and love of dance...
Like many dancers, I started around the age of 3. While I tried other activities growing up, I kept coming back to dance because I loved the ability to express myself and constantly learn new things. Knowing that ballet is the foundation for all types of dance, I made sure to consistently train in ballet and attended summer programs with the American Ballet Theatre and The Rock School. As a student I was able to perform with Ballet International and Moscow Ballet in The Nutcracker, American Ballet Theatre in Swan Lake, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in their holiday show. Dancing on such large stages was thrilling and made me realize how much I enjoyed performing. While I loved and appreciated ballet, I loved jazz dancing just as much. I trained in a variety of styles with competitive studios in metro-Detroit and went on to win regional and national competitions. Through it all my passion for performing and being on stage always propelled me to work hard.
When it came time to make post-high school plans, I was unsure what path I wanted to take. As much as I loved dance, I also was interested in pursuing academics so I wanted to find a way to do both. I attended DePaul University in Chicago where I double-majored in accounting and marketing, and I also kept up my dance training on my own by taking classes at local studios and touring on weekends with Tremaine Dance Conventions as a faculty assistant. As the years went by I started to realize that I wanted to make the move to New York City and fully pursue a dance career, so after graduation I did just that.
While I auditioned for a variety of dance jobs, I ended up landing a role as a Radio City Rockette and I’m now entering my 8th year with the company. Through Rockettes I have been able to perform on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, The Tony Awards, The Today Show and The MTV VMA Awards. I’m thankful that my hard work and determination have paid off and that I get to do what I love - performing for thousands of people each day.
Although my path to become a professional dancer is unlike many others, I’m happy with the way things have turned out. Now a Certified Public Accountant, I’m able to work and support myself during what we call “the off-season” when we’re not performing as Rockettes. I make sure to take dance classes regularly not only because I genuinely love it, but also because as a professional dancer I always want to present the best possible version of myself technique-wise. The dance world is an evolving industry, but I’ve found that one thing that stays consistent is the importance of solid ballet technique.
My advice to young dancers is to keep working hard, try not to compare yourself to others, and don’t worry about trying to figure out your future right away. The technique and work habits you build at a young age will carry with you as you get older, so it’s important to always work hard now. There are a wide variety of paths to go in the dance world, so focus on finding what you love to do and what your strengths are without trying to compare yourself to others. And ultimately don’t be afraid to just see where things take you. Growing up I never thought about being a Rockette, but now I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for me. So don’t worry about figuring everything out right away. Just keep your love for dance going and you’ll ultimately land on the path you were meant for!
Featured Students - Jan Harris and Laurel Lombardi
"Dance Buddies" Laurel and Jan have been taking class together for many years - read their inspiring stories .
Like so many other bun heads, I discovered ballet at seven years old, by following an older sister to class. From the start I loved everything about ballet - the music, the movement, the discipline and especially the competition with my sister. Whether I ever beat her is questionable, but I certainly outlasted her, and ballet became a life-long passion.
Regrettably, I drifted away from dance in high school, again following my sister into cheerleading and sports. Luckily, I found ballet again in college and never looked back.
I picked up my Cecchetti training at a local studio and took my grade six student exam and one through four as a teacher. I was fortunate to teach there for many years and to continue taking classes. I met Jan in one of those classes and we soon bonded over the love of ballet and the determination to improve no matter what our age.
Ballet is the gift I give myself each week. Jan and I are together in this, though I will admit, pink tights are far in the past for me.
At ten years old, after seeing a younger neighbor playing dress-up in her beautiful costumes and watching the sexy Emma Peel in her black leotards and tights, I just knew I needed to see what ballet class was all about. It was a rude awakening to have to wear pick tights along with that black leotard! Somehow, the challenge of working my body to move fluidly to the music and the discipline that it took to maintain the strength, flexibility, and balance hooked me into a lifelong obsession of ballet.
I had the wonderful experience of dancing with the Flint Ballet Theatre for over a decade and will always remember the thrill of performing to live music provided by the Flint Symphony Orchestra – it was like hearing the music for the first time, after months of rehearsing to a taped recording.
When I moved to the Detroit area, my first quest was to find a dance studio. That pattern has continued as I moved around the metropolitan area. At first, it had to be a Cecchetti studio (as that was where my training began), but in later years I also came to love various other styles, including Vaganova and Balanchine. I was open to whatever I could learn and found something of value from each of my teachers.
Many friendships were also formed over the years. Laurel and I met at class and have become ballet buddies. We hold each other accountable, share rides, offer encouragement, issue reminders and challenge each other as we overcome injuries and age-related issues while taking class. Sometimes the weather, family demands, work or exhaustion make one of us want to miss class, but the other is always there and we can’t let them down.
Grab a buddy or meet someone in class and make a commitment to enjoy the benefits of ballet - great exercise, wonderful stress reliever and a beautiful art form. And, you don’t even have to wear pink tights, but I still do!
I started taking ballet when I was five. I gradually added tap and jazz, but ballet was always my favorite. Going to the dance studio throughout grade school, high school, college and even when I got a nine to five job was a great way to clear my head and de-stress.
Now that I’m an adult with a family, that still holds true. I make going to ballet class a priority for a number of reasons. Going to ballet class sets a good example for my kids. It shows them that when you grow up you still need exercise and that taking time for yourself is healthy.
In addition to setting a good example, taking ballet class also helps me to do the steps I ask my students to do. I’ve been teaching for about 30 years now and I find it very important to take class myself and be able to demonstrate the positions and combinations for my students. I may not have the same stamina I used to have or be able to leap as high as I used to, but I try to improve in other areas, such as turnout, extension and pointe.
On a good day, it takes me a half an hour to get to Suzanne’s ballet class. Some days, when it’s snowy or the tights seem a bit too tight, I think about skipping a week, but then I remember why I go – to stay limber, to teach, to keep my mind sharp. It’s like medicine. And after class is done, I always feel like I’ve accomplished something and I’m glad I went. When I do have to miss, I am not happy. And if I have to miss two or three weeks in a row, I get downright cranky. Luckily, Suzanne offers several options for adults to get their “ballet therapy.”
Going to ballet class as an adult is also a great social outlet. There is a certain camaraderie dancers, ballet dancers in particular, share and a certain craving for sweat and sore muscles that can be satiated no where else but at the barre and understood by no one else but by another dancer.
Ballet – it’s good medicine!