For 35 years, the Victoria Ballet Theatre has nurtured a love for dance in the Crossroads.

“The Nutcracker” is a holiday tradition for many families, and the local production sells out every year. Many dancers get their starts with the ballet company when they see the winter classic, which is often their first exposure to dance, said Brenda Serrata Tally, artistic director for the ballet. Each year, Tally writes grants to help fund Welder Center performances of the classic ballet for all 3rd-grade students in the Victoria Independent School District.

The company holds auditions for community members age 6 and older for "The Nutcracker" roles that are open to the public, which also serves as an introduction to dance for some of them. She said children in the theater are “magic” because “everything amazes them.”

Some of the dancers in the company start dancing as young as age 3 or 4 and others begin later in elementary school, or even middle school sometimes. The nonprofit company provides Crossroads dancers with formal instruction from top-notch teachers. In addition to rigorous training schedules, the dancers, choreographers and directors participate in the Regional Dance America Festival each year. They attend master classes during the day and perform at night. The dancers are seen by college and professional recruiters and can audition for awards and scholarships.

For longer periods of time, they learn from professional dancers hired for roles in Victoria performances. Dancers belonging to professional ballet companies in other areas are hired to dance the male roles in the ballets because of a shortage of male dancers in the local company. And a professional female dancer also is hired each year to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker.”

Generally, dance gives children balance and strength while allowing them to express their creativity. It teaches them discipline and brings joy to their lives.

Currently, company alumni including Ella Porr, Angelica Pina, Katelyn Perez, Michela Short and Emily Turpin are pursuing dance in college. Others have made careers of dancing, including Tally who is an alumni of the local company. Colleen Barnes Merwin, Mindy Lai, Jacline Henrichs, Melanie Sistrunk Kregel, Angela McCord McGarity, Shaina Branfman Baira and Jennifer James Davis direct dance schools or companies. And Golden Wright chairs the dance department at Lamar University.

Contrary to stereotypes of starving ballerinas, Tally compared the nutrition necessary for the young dancers’ bodies to high-quality oil used in sports cars. The dancers take health and fitness classes to help them develop nutritional routines that allow them to dance from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dancing builds long and lean muscle, and the company dancers are representative of every body type and shape, she said.

“They have to eat all the time, especially the teenagers,” Tally said. “It’s more about them being healthy and having the stamina to get through the work.”

Each year, members of the company can apply for a spot in an emerging choreographers workshop that begins in June. At the end of two weeks, their works are performed informally and, typically, some are selected for the fall concert. This year, all six were selected for “Inspired,” the first performance of the upcoming season. So they will be split between the two shows on Sept. 28.

“They develop their own voice, what to say, how to say it, by choosing the music, the costumes and dancers, and the movements,” Tally said. “And then the technical abilities of crafting a work using space and time and energy the same way a writer uses different words or language, flow, short sentences, long sentences — they use short dance phrases and long dance phrases, pauses and stillness – it’s all the same thing.”

This year, Tally also secured grants for educational performances of “Inspired” for all 6th-grade students in VISD. She called the opportunity to perform this mixed repertory of theater jazz, neoclassical ballet and modern dance “transformative” for the children because they are old enough to grasp meanings deeper than bodies moving around but still young enough to be in awe.

The Victoria Ballet Theatre, Mid-Coast Family Counseling Services and the Victoria Boys & Girls Club collaborate with local schools on another outreach program, the Dance Education and Movement Initiative, or DEMI. Through grants, the children are outfitted with dance wear and gear, and the ballet company provides them with dance lessons. Those dancers who demonstrate passion and talent for the art might earn scholarships to further their training in a more formal setting.

“We love our educational shows,” Tally said. “The lights go down, and they clap and laugh, and the dancers love it, too.”

The dancers with the ballet company also perform as guests of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra in productions including the Spooktacular around Halloween and “Peter and the Wolf.”

The Victoria Advocate urges the community to support and appreciate the hard work and beautiful dancing of area youth. Having a ballet company located in Victoria opens an art form to Crossroads residents who might not otherwise have access. And many likely would not enjoy dance performances as often, either. Be sure to get your season tickets for this year’s performances of “Inspired,” “The Nutcracker,” and “Cinderella.”

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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