When Lily Dunne dances ballet, she gets lost in her own world.
“I love practicing and getting on stage,” Lilly, 16, said. “It’s magical. I love it.”
Lily has been dancing since she was 2 or 3. While developing her performing art, she tried everything from hip-hop to lyrical and tap, in order to become well-rounded in the craft. Four or five years ago, she decided to focus on ballet.
She dances classic and contemporary. Classical ballet has a set of specific rules that need to be followed, while contemporary isn’t as structured and combines several dance styles. Lily has gravitated toward classical ballet, but dancers are asked to know both for versatility and to be more competitive in the industry.
She dances at Weehawken Creative Arts and takes private lessons to hone her skills. She does about 15 hours a week, including rehearsals. Along with her regular ballet classes where the focus is on technique, Lily takes a special Imperial Society Teachers of Dancing class, which gives her another certification in ballet. She is currently advanced-one certified.
“For some reason, a few years ago, it just stuck out from all the others and whenever I’m doing it, I am just enjoying it so much,” Lily said, adding she is always excited to dance.
Lily loves dance so much she will be heading to New York this summer for a summer intensive at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York. The company travels worldwide and students come from all over to be taught by this organization.
To help get her there, Lily checks out dancers on social media, her mom Andrea Dunne Mackenzie said. Lily will watch for hours and pick up new techniques, see how they perform and in the end, they inspire her.
Her idol is Russian ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova, who dances for the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia. Zakharova’s grace inspires Lily and that encouraged her to apply for Bolshoi, she said, adding it is exciting she got into the company’s summer program.
The first step was an application and, in January, she traveled with her family to Denver for auditions. The family was feeling a bit discouraged with the mixed results Lily had received during auditions and questioned if this was the summer program they wanted, but Lily knew Bolshoi was for her.
A teacher from the company will come in during an audition, teach for two hours and then someone scores the dancers, Lily explained. The other part of the audition included work in a group. Lily said her last audition was very difficult, and the class performed routines she couldn’t believe.
“It was a very scary (experience),” Lily said. “I couldn’t believe when I got into their six-week program because the six-week (there is also a three week session) is obviously the hardest. I was just so surprised and I love the company, obviously.”
The Bolshoi company was started around 1776 and is one of the oldest ballets. The school offers scholarships to their students. It has a good reputation, Andrea said.
At the Bolshoi, Andrea said they only speak and teach in Russian, using a translator to communicate with students.The academy offers Russian language classes to students while they attend the summer intensive.
“They have their way and they really stick to it,” Andrea said. “That’s just so ballet; it’s regimen, it’s so precise in what they ask (of) these women’s and men’s bodies. It’s like supernatural what they can do … and they make it look so easy.”
This is not the first summer intensive for Lily. In 2016, she attended one at the International Ballet School in Denver; in 2017 she went to Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, Oregon, and in 2018, she attended the Boston Ballet in Boston.
“I feel like my technique there and my artistry has really improved,” Lily said “I’ve just seen major improvements because the programs. The teachers and the staff are so caring and it really helps you improve.”
Those who are serious about ballet generally do summer intensives, Andrea said. There aren’t many options for something like this in the area, she added.
Lily is looking to become a professional dancer, but she has not forgotten her studies at Montrose High School. At the beginning of June she will be attending a world geography trip, through the school, to Italy and Greece.
This is not a vacation. The group will be learning while it travels. Lily said she has always wanted to travel to Greece, and is looking forward to learning about new cultures and visit new places. Andrea said she believes in learning outside the classroom, so the family wanted to make this happen for Lily.
“I think seeing different cultures and the way people live around the world will be very interesting and beneficial to me with dance,” Lily said.
After she graduates, Lily is looking to dance with a company for a few years before pursuing something in math or science.
Andrea said overall her family is trying to help Lily live a balanced life. She does not want Lily to put too much pressure on herself that she isn’t enjoying her day-to-day routine.
Since Lily was young, music and dance has been something that her mom noticed brought about some calm to her life. So that’s when they enrolled her in dance.
“I didn’t know where it would go,” Andrea said. “It would have been fine if she (were to say), ‘Uh, I’m done.’ … Lily has always loved it and gravitated toward it and I think the physical stuff has helped her kind of find balance but she does put a lot of pressure on herself.”
Lily said she is the on who pushes herself the most; she said her parents are supportive and never force her to do anything she does not want to do.
“I’m just really excited for Bolshoi this summer,” Lily said. “I was really surprised about getting into it because it’s one of the most elite summer programs.”
Monica Garcia is the news editor at the Montrose Daily Press.