Tutus on Choo Choos

Stepping off the train in Grand Central, Abby Merlis ’15 and Rachel DuVivier ’14 are dressed in jeans and sweaters, but pirouettes and piques are on their mind. With their hair bobby-pinned back into perfect ballerina buns, the girls carry bags filled with pointe shoes, leotards and homework. While most Staples students commute to the field house for after-school sports, these girls commute to New York City.

Merlis and DuVivier travel to the city by car or train everyday after school to take dance classes at the French Academie of Ballet, 305 West 38th Street in New York City.

“I study classical ballet. But we have modern class twice a week in order to prepare us for the modern and contemporary repertoire that ballet companies all over the world are performing,” said Merlis.

This is DuVivier’s first year at the French Academie of Ballet, while Merlis has been going for dance classes for three years. Before they began classes in the city, they were dancing at local studios. Eventually, they realized they wanted to attend a pre-professional dance school in order to make dancing a more likely career.

But now, with classes for three to four hours each day and on some Saturdays, it is hard for Merlis and DuVivier to keep their sauté combinations separate from their science homework. Because these girls have a packed schedule, there is not much time for homework.

“Commuting has actually made me much more productive because I’m forced to do my work when I can, since I have less time too. It has also made me more appreciative of sleep,” said DuVivier.

Merlis agrees with this and said that her busy schedule has only had a positive effect on her schoolwork because ballet class has taught her discipline and focus. She has been able to apply these principles and has become more disciplined in school.

“I try not to let ballet interfere with school or use it as an excuse in any way. In fact, most of my teachers don’t even know that this is a part of my life,” said Merlis.

The girls mostly do their homework on the rides to and from the city and finish the remainder at home. However, school is not the only subject they have to review for on the train.

“We are expected to be focused and hardworking in each [ballet] class and review corrections and choreography on our own time,” said Merlis, “I have a notebook filled of corrections that I like to review before every rehearsal because I have to think about what I am doing inside and outside of class in order to make the improvements my teachers are looking for.”

It is important for the girls to make their corrections so they can raise their leg a little bit higher in arabesque or jump a little higher in their grand jeté. Improving their dancing techniques will ultimately allow them to continue on the road to becoming professional dancers. DuVivier plans to continue dancing through high school and wants to join a dance company before going to college.

Like DuVivier and Merlis, Lucy Nevin ’15 also plans to become a professional ballerina.

Nevin has already looked at companies that she wants to be a part of. She auditioned for summer programs with companies that she dreams of being a part of. While she is considering these companies for her future, Nevin hopes that she is being considered for a spot in their future.

While Nevin has been dancing in the city since fourth grade and now attends the School of American Ballet, she no longer attends Staples as she did her freshman year. Instead, she has moved to the city to attend the Professional Children’s School. Nevin said that moving to the city was good for her career as a dancer, and it has also made it easier for her to keep her grades up. However, she rarely ever sees her family except for occasional weekend visits.

“My ballet schedule became very busy because I was dancing from 2:30 to 7 p.m. or later everyday. It was really hard to do Staples and ballet. It is easier to go to a school in the city that accommodates my ballet schedule,” said Nevin.

All three of these girls have been dancing since they were little and could not imagine life without dancing. While they may have to sacrifice many things, such as time with friends on the weekends, they have met so many new people and have learned so much.

“It’s been fun meeting people who come from different places, and now we are all very close. However, I still have great friends at home, and they are always so supportive,” said Merlis. “This year, for the first time, several friends came to see me perform. It felt great to have their support from home.”