5 to Watch
Poised perfection, the following 5 dancers have been on our radar. We have watched them dance and grow and we could not be more proud of their hard work and accomplishments. These young Brown Ballerinas are dedicated dancers who are both intelligent and talented, just 2 of the reasons that they are this year's'5 to Watch'.
Alexandra "Sasha" Manuel
Alexandra “Sasha” Manuel, age 12, trains at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory (IBC) with Founding Artistic Director, Alyona Yakovleva-Randall. She has been at IBC since she was 8 years old andis coached by Sergey Sergiev for Contemporary. Sasha started IBC’s Professional Training Program this year and her teachers also include Hailey Agran, Tatiana Pali and Alexei Moskalenko. She takes technique, pointe, character, contemporary, modern, jazz, and repertoire. Prior to IBC, Sasha trained with Anne Wilcox at Ballet de Volle in Rockville, Maryland.
This January, Sasha earned 1st place in classical and 2nd place in Contemporary at the World Ballet Art Competition Grand Prix in Toronto, Canada. In February, she earned 3rd place in Classical and Top 12in the Pre-competitive Division at the Chicago regionals of Youth America Grand Prix. She was invited to compete in the YAGP Finals in NYC. In 2015, she earned 3rd place in Contemporary and Top 12 in Classical and was also invited to competed in the YAGP Finals.
Sasha has danced the role of Masha (Clara) in the last two productions of Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s Nutcracker. She is fluent in French and models for Motionwear. Through Indianapolis City Ballet’s Master Class program, she has had theprivilege to take classes with such ballet greats as Franco deVita, Gillian Murphy, Guillaume Cote, Darci Kistler and Amanda McKerrow. Sasha also participated in the International Indianapolis Ballet Competition hosted by Indianapolis City Ballet. This summer, Sasha will be attending the Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s 5 week Summer Intensive.
Jasmine started at an early age of 3 1/2 and has been dancing at the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City, CA where she is currently a student in the Professional Ballet Division. She has trained in a variety of dance styles including jazz, tap, lyrical, contemporary and classical ballet. Jasmine's exceptional technical skill at age 9 was commended with the Hope Award at the Youth America Grand Prix, San Francisco Semi-Finals. Winning top awards (1st if not 2nd) in both classical and contemporary in YAGP, she has consistently qualified as a New York Finalist since 2011. Having bagged the Gold Medal in the introductory category at World Ballet Competition in 2012, she was also voted as her dance school's 2012 Outstanding Junior Student, awarded the New York City Dance Alliance 2013 National Outstanding Dancer and featured in Dance Spirit Magazine's April 2014 "You Should Know" feature, spotlighting upcoming young dancers. Other awards worth mentioning are 1st place overall Teen Division and Miss Teen Spotlight, San Jose and Silver Medal, Preparatory Category, 2015 World Ballet Competition and just recently, Daly City Mayor's Youth of the Year. Jasmine is currently touring and assisting the faculty of New York City Dance Alliance for the second time as its National Outstanding Dancer. In addition to receiving several summer intensive scholarships from Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Academy, Boston Ballet, Next Generation Ballet and American Ballet Theater, Jasmine was also invited to perform in the Young Medalists Gala of the 2013 Miami International Ballet Festival and had the privilege to represent WSPA last year in the Homecoming Gala of Ballet Philippines 45th Anniversary in Manila.
Jasmine has danced the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Doll, Clara, Chinese Lead, Butterfly, Merliton at her school's production of The Nutcracker. Jasmine is a firm believer of perseverance and hard work and that " You will only get out of a dance class what you bring in to it ". Jasmine wants to someday work for a professional dance company.
Eliana Vaha'i Feao
At just 14 years old, Eliana Vaha'i Fe'ao has graduated high school with highest honors, completed her first semester of college, danced for royalty, graced magazine covers, and made history performing a variation from Sleeping Beauty in the Kingdom of Tonga at the Coronation Ball last summer. Her passion for honoring her culture and for being a positive voice for young indigenous women has catapulted this pre-professional ballet student into iconic role model status throughout the South Pacific and beyond.
A competitive gymnast from a young age, it was only after an injury forced her to retire from the sport at age 11 that Eliana began her ballet training in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her natural strength, flexibility, and capacity for ballet quickly gained attention and at the urging of her teachers, she auditioned for and was accepted to Ballet West Academy which she credits with instilling her with high expectations of herself as a dancer and artist.
In addition to Ballet West, Eliana has trained with UNCSA and the Jillana School, and was selected as part of the inaugural class of American Ballet Theatre's William J. Gillespie School in Orange County, California. She is currently a freshman in college, double majoring in dance and cultural anthropology and is writing an inspirational book for young girls, to benefit international girls' rights organizations and dance scholarships for children of color.
"I've never been in class with someone like me," says Eliana. "I've never seen a company member like me or shared the barre with someone like me. Ballet isn't exactly overflowing with Tongan girls. Someone has to open that door and show that its possible. I guess right now that person is me. If one little girl can look at me and see herself, see her own potential, that's worth the world to me. That's everything."
Eliana hopes to be the first Tongan prima ballerina and to start the first ballet school and company in Tonga, and to establish a sister school and company in the United States that celebrates and reflects a diversity of dance cultures woven into the legacy of classical ballet. She finds inspiration in brown ballerinas like Michaela DePrince, Ingrid Silva, Katlyn Addsison, Allison Stroming, Christina Johnson, and Misty Copeland and loves to connect with dancers around the world who are also passionate about greater diversity in the world of classical ballet.
Marja’ Soleil Miller, Age 12, started dancing at age 3 at a local ballet studio and continued taking ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical. At the age of 5 showing great initiative, Marja became a teacher’s aid with special needs children class, and loved taking these classes due to seeing their faces glow and how happy they were when on stage, at the time of recital.
Although Marja loved all the styles of dance, ballet spoke to her heart. “Whenever I dance ballet I feel free and so graceful and all the stress comes off of my shoulders. I show my emotions through dancing and although there are a lot of sacrifices with ballet it has pushed me to becoming a better dancer and young lady.”
After taking a year off while trying to find another studio, Marja found Carolina Dance Conservatory in Simpsonville, South Carolina. She is currently under the training of Amy DeShong, Svetlana Ponomar, and Hennadii Bespechnyiy and began competition with her CDC family in 2013. Under their direction, she was given the opportunity to dance a solo piece variation of La Esmeralda at the YAGP competition in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, placing top 3 and invited to dance in New York. Marja currently attends intensives at her home studio but also hopes to attend the Joffrey Ballet, School of Rock or Atlanta Ballet Intensives. Her dream is to one day meet Misty Copeland and Michaela de Prince. “I appreciate the opportunity of being a mentor, an inspiration to other Brown Girls, and to show the world we are a force to be reckoned with.”
McLaine Meachem, 15, hails from Fort Worth, Texas and was born a ballet dancer. Her mom believes this adamantly, as well as her obstetrician, because of all of the movement while her mom was carrying her! McLaine has been officially dancing since the age of two when she started classes at a small local dance studio. Even though her classes were in the evening she would be up and dressed for ballet that morning and watch the clock - all day.
Unfortunately, due to some health problems her father suffered, McLaine had to stop taking dance classes, but that did not stop her. McLaine watched anything about ballet she could find on the family computer and her family rented videos of dance from the library so McLaine could use the television's reflection as a mirror and teach herself. McLaine continued dancing in her family's den and with nothing but the training she gave herself, she auditioned and was accepted into 4th grade at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. McLaine was finally able to take real ballet classes again and she has not looked back!
McLaine started getting intense ballet training outside of school at Ballet Center of Fort Worth at the age of 10. When she was old enough, McLaine auditioned with Ballet Frontier of Texas and was accepted as a company trainee at 12. She has been Junior Company member with Ballet Frontier of Texas for 2 years and has attended intensives at her local studio as well as Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has also been accepted into intensives at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Texas Ballet Theater and Joffrey.
McLaine has danced in four Nutcracker productions. Her dances include Bon Bon, Snow, Spanish dance and the Chinese dance."My goal as a black ballet dancer is to show the young girls of the world, not just black, but of all races, that if they do not have the ideal ballerina body it does not mean that they can't be a dancer. With dedication and talent, anything's possible." It is McLaine's dream to one day be in a professional ballet company.