On Pointe: Senior Pursues Ballet in NY

Senior Emily McKinney’s daily routine isn’t that of most high school students. She rides the bus and subway to classes in the morning, lives in a dormitory run by nuns (which she admits is like “The Sound of Music”) and occasionally makes the 10 minute walk to Times Square.

Although she hasn’t officially graduated from LAHS, having not taken her Civics final, Emily has finished all of her courses and left school a semester early. Now living nearly 3000 miles away from Los Altos, she has moved to New York to pursue professional ballet.

“Dancing professionally is my dream,” Emily said. “It’s what I have been working towards since, well, forever. When this opportunity was given to me, I wasn’t sure how to react because I didn’t want to give up on my high school education, but I didn’t want to throw away dancing in New York City.”

After completing a summer dance program in Boston, Emily auditioned at Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet (GKA) which is an academy that her mom suggested she audition for. Emily was eventually offered a spot at the academy, located in New York City. By completing courses online, and working with the administration, she was able to graduate a semester early and follow the passion she has had for dancing since she took her first tap class at age five.

The opportunity to dance for GKA was a result of encouragement from her former directors and her parents’ support.

“My family is very excited and happy for me because it’s not just me who does all the work,” Emily said. “They have driven me to dance for 12 years, have come to all my shows, bought me dance shoes, stayed up late when I had long rehearsals, fixed my costumes, moved props…they deserve so much credit.”

Emily moved to New York City at the beginning of January to begin at GKA. In New York, Emily’s average day begins at 6:30 a.m. and involves anywhere between four and eight hours of ballet dance classes: core, technique, pointe, character and stretching (which she said is exceptionally brutal), partnering, variations, music and acting. In a week, she dances between 25 and 28 hours.

“My schedule is pretty demanding, but this is why I came all the way to New York,” Emily said, “I wanted more hours, more teachers and more physically demanding training. Instead of school, I just dance all day.”

One of the key elements of her experience at GKA, Emily said, is the ballet community and company she is surrounded by.

“I am lucky to be training with other girls who are hungry for the same dream that I want to achieve,” Emily said. “Everyone is very focused and there is a lot of competition in the classrooms. It allows all of us to push ourselves to be the best that we can be.”

Emily lives with other ballerinas in a dormitory run by a Catholic charity in the city’s theater district and said that she is getting used to a more independent life in the Big Apple.

“Well, I’ve already gotten lost, badly, about three times,” Emily said. “I dropped my butter knives down the drain, got stuck at the airport, got locked out of my room. Then power decided to just quit in my room, and the cross fell off the wall, that was kind of scary.”

Although Emily is still getting accustomed to her new surroundings, she said that the opportunity to dance in New York is something she has always dreamed of.

“New York has always been in the back of my mind,” Emily said. “I thought it would be a reality towards the end of my dancing years. Now that this has happened to me so soon, it has allowed me to mentally feel that I have a place somewhere in the industry, but there are no guarantees.”

But, despite her early success, Emily said that there are inevitable drawbacks to dancing at such an intense level.

In New York, home is far away. Long hours make for a sore body, and often all she can do after dance is eat, shower, call her family and sleep. She hopes to attend college later on but balancing it with dance will be a challenge. But for Emily, each difficulty pales in comparison to the passion she holds for dance.

“I don’t regret missing a ‘normal’ childhood because I was able to experience so many other projects,” Emily said. “If you’re doing something you love, it’s never work.”