Carly Strabel, a sophomore at Brockport High School , studies dance at the Brockport School of Dance and Performing Arts. Besides ballet, she also takes lessons in modern dance, jazz and modern lyrical. When it comes to dance, she says: “Ballet! I love it!” Photograph by Walter Horylev.

Captured in mid-air, Carly Strabel demonstrates the pas de chat. Photograph by Walter Horylev.

Ballet requires physical strength and dedication. Sixteen-year-old Carly Strabel has been studying dance for 13 years. Photograph by Walter Horylev.

Brockport ballet dancer studies to move on to bigger stage

Hearing that you have incredible feet and perfect turnout (hip rotation) might not be exciting for some 16-year-old girls, but for Carly Strabel, of Brockport, it has made all the difference in the world.

Carly, who has been taking ballet since the age of three and is focused on getting to some of ballet's biggest stages, is now one Cabriole (a cool ballet move) closer to her dream. She will be leaving in September to enter the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut, one of the nation's most respected ballet training facilities. Carly was one of three students accepted this year.

Lindsey Rozzi, Carly's mentor from Brockport School of Dance and Performing Arts, said her acceptance in the Nutmeg program is a noteworthy accomplishment.

"It is huge," Rozzi said. "She'll have so much more exposure to the kinds of teachers and experiences that will get her to where she wants to go."

Carly credits Rozzi and her friends at the Brockport dance school for the support they have given her. Carly said many of her closest friends are also dancers because most of her classmates do not understand ballet and do not comprehend the significance of attending the Nutmeg Conservatory.

"At school, ballet isn't appreciated as much as sports," Carly said. That doesn't mean that ballerinas can get away with a less than athletic practice regimen.

She has been practicing six days a week, four hours a day for the last three years to prepare for this moment. When she is not dancing, Carly does yoga and pilates to further her conditioning. She had to audition for a chance to earn an invitation to Nutmeg.

When the invitation arrived in the mail, her decision was easy, at least for Carly.

"I decided the minute I got the letter, but my parents made me wait a couple of weeks," Carly said. Her mother, Leisa, and father, David, said the family is still struggling with having Carly leave.

"The only reason I let her audition was I didn't think she would make it," Leisa said. The family was torn between letting Carly pursue her dream and wanting to keep her closer to home. In the end, the chance to live a dream won out.

"I think everyone should pursue their dream," Leisa said. So far, Carly's dream has taken the family all over from recital to recital and it has also cost a pretty penny in lessons, costumes and ballet slippers. An average pair of slippers costs between $60 and $70 and Carly goes through two pair a month most of the year and two pair a week during the summer. The summer programs Carly attends are also quite pricey. This summer, Carly will practice with her dream company, the Boston Ballet.

In addition to ballet instruction, Carly will be in an academic program at the Conservatory. She will attend classes from 9 a.m. until noon and then take dance lessons late into the evening. While Carly is sad to be leaving family and friends behind, she knows this is a move she has to make to fulfill her dreams.

"I know that if I want to have a better chance at having a career in dance, then I have to someday leave Brockport," Carly said.

Not only is the road to being a professional ballet dancer difficult, the career is extremely demanding. The pay is low, so many ballet dancers work part-time jobs on top of dancing 12 hours a day. The physical strain on a dancer is intense and most are forced to retire in their early to mid-30s.

Despite the daunting challenges, Carly just can't imagine any other life.

"I just feel free dancing, so that is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing," Carly said.

Note: Carly Strabel's grandparents are also area residents, George and Marilyn Strabel and Lawrence and the late Lola Wood.

May 13, 2007