BANGOR, Maine — With flawless posture and unspoken grace, young dancers Zach Williams and Velstara Vardamis glide across the floor. Glancing occasionally in the mirror, they dance otherwise in perfect unison, he lifting her high above his head before they flit away from each other.
Williams and Vardamis are just two of many students from Bangor Ballet Company who will take their talent and passion for dance to the dance floors of prestigious ballet programs throughout the country this summer.
For the second year, the renowned dance company Ballet Chicago chose Bangor Ballet as its only New England location for its summer program auditions. Several students auditioned, and four from Maine were selected to attend. Vardamis and Williams also received scholarships and acceptance into an additional two-week advance performance program.
Another 12 students auditioned and were accepted to other programs including American Ballet Theatre Alabama and Urbanity Dance Company in Boston.
A burgeoning passion
For Williams, a rising junior at Old Town High School, dance is a way to express himself. Quiet and mellow, the teen started dancing two and a half years ago and immediately fell in love with the art. He studies dance mostly in ballet and lyrical classes, often spending upwards of 35 hours per week practicing.
“It’s an emotional outlet for me. I’m not an outspoken person, so I dance,” Williams said.
Vardamis, a rising Bangor High School sophomore, started dancing much earlier than Williams, at age 4 or 5. It is fairly common for girls to start taking ballet classes before boys, Bangor Ballet Executive Director Jane Bragg said.
She said many boys have to gain the self-confidence needed to overcome societal pressures and gender stereotypes before starting dance classes. However, once they do, she said they often progress quickly and embrace the athleticism and skill it takes to lift young women high in the air while pivoting with precision and poise.
These days, Vardamis spends dozens of hours at the studio on State Street either in ballet or modern dance classes and in practices for Bangor Ballet’s many shows in which she’s often a soloist.
Both teens would like to pursue dance beyond high school, and neither is opposed to eventually dancing professionally. For Vardamis, her passion to make dance a career comes in part from a desire to encourage others to follow their dreams.
“I just want to be able to show people that they have what it takes, to show them how far they can go if they work hard,” Vardamis said.
She also loves that dance allows her to express her feelings without anyone judging her.
An intense summer
The flurry of excitement surrounding summer programs such as Ballet Chicago’s five-week training usually begins early in the spring with an intensive one-day audition.
Each audition works a little differently, but most require the students to learn a routine from start to finish and then perform it, a few dancers at a time. Instructors observe, then head back to their home companies, and the students’ waiting begins.
A month or two later, the names of those who made the cut are announced, and staff at Bangor Ballet notify media and dancers about their placement.
Williams’ mother, Diane Williams, said when news came that he’d been accepted to Ballet Chicago, he — appropriately enough — danced around the house. She was happy but also a little nervous.
“I’m excited for him. … I hope he has fun, and I know he’ll learn so much, but it is hard to let him go. It’s far,” she said.
This isn’t the first time more than a dozen Bangor Ballet students have qualified for summer programs, however Bragg said it’s indicative of the level of training they receive and their dedication.
While they aren’t necessary for young dancers to attend, intense summer programs expedite the learning process and give them a chance to learn from instructors who may teach ballet in different ways. Zach Williams and Vardamis aren’t the only students at Bangor Ballet who aspire to dance professionally, and Bragg says summer programs give them a shot at doing so.
“[Summer programs are] something they should do if they want to do dance at a high level,” she said. “They will gain the tools they need to have the opportunity to go on if they want to.”
According to the Ballet Chicago website, the students who attend the summer program there will have several hours per day of technique, pointe, variations, pilates and pas de deux classes, among others. The advanced program will include dancers from throughout the country, Asia, South America and Europe and will help them “gain strength, purity of line, musicality, self-confidence and focus.” Many programs, including Ballet Chicago, end with a performance.
Both Williams and Vardamis said they look forward to the Chicago program’s intensity, but they said they know it will be a supportive and fun environment. After all, they will get to do something they love all day, everyday, alongside teens just as enthusiastic about ballet as they are.
“Everyone there is passionate about helping people reach their dreams,” Vardamis said.
The other students from Ballet Bangor attending programs this summer include:
— Hanna Sabbagh, Ballet Chicago
— Kelsie Washington, Ballet Chicago
— Elise Dudley, American Ballet Theatre Alabama
— Abbigail Blanchard, Chautauqua Ballet Program
— Danielle Barrett, Camp Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts
— Sophia Wirta, Walnut Hill School for the Arts
— Genevieve Wakeman, Walnut Hill School for the Arts
— Jennifer Colavito, Walnut Hill School for the Arts
— Sadie Webb, Bossov Ballet
— Anna MacDonald, Southern New Hampshire Dance Theatre
— Emma Brandes, Southern New Hampshire Dance Theatre
— Lorna Pinet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet; Urbanity Dance Company