Dancing to Their Dreams

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by alice robb

alexander peters didn't have the chance to dance at his high school prom, but he will soon dance full-time as a member of a professional ballet company.

the west sider, 19, spends seven hours a day in dance classes and rehearsals, leaving little time for academics or socializing. alex and classmates lily balogh, 18, and lars nelson, 19, are three recent graduates of the school of american ballet, the official school of new york city ballet at lincoln center.

not long ago, the three found out where their dancing careers will take them after years of studying on the west side.

alex will become a member of kansas city ballet, an acclaimed regional company, while lily and lars were awarded two of the most coveted positions for young dancers: apprenticeships with the new york city ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world.

an apprenticeship is a yearlong trial contract that usually ends with an offer to join the corps de ballet. peter martins, ballet master in chief of nycb, made just five apprenticeship offers this year, down from 10 last year.

only after completing a grueling four-month long audition season did the duo learn of their good fortune. lily was entertaining offers from los angeles ballet and carolina ballet when kay mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at sab, hinted that she shouldn't accept either company yet. it was not until mid-june that mr. martins assembled his chosen ones and broke the news.

"it was shocking obviously, even though we knew it was a possibility," lars said.

lily has studied at sab since her mother saw an ad in a paper and brought her to an audition nine years ago. every year, sab accepts about 30 children into each class. one or two make it through the ranks of the school to eventually join nycb.

as a child performing in the nutcracker, lily remembers loitering backstage, waiting for the grown-up dancers to go on. next year, she will be one of them.

"sab is my second home. the teachers are like second mothers to me," she said.

"it's like having children who go off to college," ms. mazzo agreed. "we're very proud, but it's hard to let them go."

lars, originally from grand rapids, mich., and alex, who grew up in state college, pa., moved to new york three years ago to attend sab. both started dance at the age of 11. in a profession in which the peak years are in the early twenties, most dancers begin younger; sab accepts children as young as six.

lars recalls that he did not have many close friends back in grand rapids.

"going to dance on friday night, i didn't feel like i was missing out on anything," he said. it was only when he moved to new york and lived with 60 other dancers in sab's dorms at lincoln center that he felt a part of a community.

alex, too, prefers new york to his former home in suburban pennsylvania.

"i like the constant motion, the accessibility."

despite their intense commitment to ballet, all three nurse other passions. lars hopes to study medicine or physical therapy. alex is interested in architecture, and lily wants to write.

in the meantime, they'll have plenty to keep them busy.

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