Dahlia Denicore just wanted to dance.
As a toddler, she wouldn’t take off her tap shoes.
As a child, she threw herself into lessons.
As a teenager, she convinced her parents to let her go for professional training – late for a dancer seeking a career.
And to become a member of the Orlando Ballet business, she traveled hundreds of miles to compete in the recent Ukraine benefit, crashed on a friend’s couch, continued her education online, worked full time — whatever it took.
All the effort paid off.
During her first weeks with the company, Denicore was promoted and selected by choreographer Michael Pink as one of the principals for the Orlando Ballet’s production of his “Dracula,” which opens October 20.
It’s a meteoric rise – something she’s been working on all her life.
“It will be my professional debut,” she said, a smile forming on her face. “This is a dream.”
Orlando Ballet artistic director Jorden Morris says she has earned her place on stage.
“She’s obviously proven what she’s willing to go through to get an opportunity,” he says.
And in a business where it’s all about being in the right place at the right time, “I just thought, ‘I’m going to be the right person in the right place at the right time for her,'” Morris says.
Growing up in small town Virginia, Denicore “was put in a ‘baby ballet’ class at age 3 just for fun.”
Her parents, who will travel to Orlando this weekend to witness their daughter’s pro debut, had no idea what they were getting into.
When Denicore was given a pair of tap shoes when she was young, she wore them everywhere. While watching a dance performance, she started her own show in the audience.
“I just walked into the aisle and started tapping,” she says. “I drove everyone crazy.”
Her teachers at the local school saw the potential and drive – and encouraged her to attend a vocational school elsewhere, as many serious dancers do.
“If she wants to get there, she has to get out of here,” Denicore recalls.
One problem: “As lawyers, my parents didn’t understand the process of firing me,” she says. “They were like, ‘This is our family time. “”
Finally, at 17—“it took a lot of tooth-pulling,” she laughs—she was allowed to enter a vocational training program.
Not that she didn’t dance in a storm. In the school of her small town, she played leading roles and associated with guest professional dancers. Yet for two years at the San Francisco Ballet School, she felt like an impostor as her technique lagged behind that of her colleagues.
“They had all lived away from home since they were babies!” she exclaims.
So she hung up.
She inquired about auditioning for Orlando Ballet and was offered the opportunity to study at the school over the summer and join Orlando Ballet II, the company’s minor leagues so to speak. .
But Denicore wasn’t sure she could pay to come from California and find a place to live.
In a moment of serendipity, the fashion chain she worked for was opening a new store in the Orlando mall in Millenia and needed someone with hands-on experience here. Her employer flew her in and put her up in a hotel for the duration of her studies. Not that she cared about the hours of dance lessons in addition to the hours of retail work.
“It was worth being up 13 hours a day and no days off,” she says.
At the end of the summer session, she returned to Virginia.
Then the Orlando Ballet sent an email asking the dancers if they would be participating in the Ukraine Ballet Benefit at the Dr. Phillips Center.
Denicore immediately said yes. Then we had to figure out how to get back.
She arranged to find roommates, flew back, slept on the couch of the new roommates, used ride-sharing services to get to rehearsals.
Orlando Ballet staff had no idea she didn’t live in the area when she accepted.
“It just shows dedication,” Morris says.
He and associate artistic director Lisa Thorn Vinzant had previously been impressed with her during summer school. Ukrainian dancers also praised her work in repeating the benefit. And then Morris and Vinzant saw her perform: “I remember turning to Lisa and saying, ‘I think we’re promoting Dahlia right now. “”
And so, at age 20, she was named an apprentice in the main company.
Shortly after, choreographer Michael Pink arrived in town to kick off Orlando Ballet’s season-opening production of “Dracula.” When it came time to choose the women who would share the lead role of vampire lover Lucy, Pink selected veteran dancer Hitomi Nakamura — and Denicore.
“I wake up at 3:30 a.m. doing the choreography in my head,” says Denicore, who attributes his success in part to getting eight hours of sleep a night.
It’s not easy when she’s also taking online college courses in calculus and physics. She is considering a career as a pediatrician, perhaps with Doctors Without Borders, when her dancing days are over.
Things to do
A look at entertainment and sporting events in Orlando and Central Florida.
“I have a passion for medicine,” she says. “I will go to medical school as an older student.”
After all, she has a habit of starting later than the others and then catching up.
Morris says her late pro debut doesn’t stop her from dancing because she has that elusive “It” factor.
“You can’t stop staring at her,” he says. “You first have to find the artist. You can fix the formation as you go. And she’s so brilliant that she can apply corrections so quickly.
And Denicore believes she is where she is meant to be.
“To tell a story and make someone feel something, so immersed in what’s going on that they forget where they are,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
- Where: Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave. in Orlando
- When: October 20-23
- Cost: $29 and up
- Information: drphillipscenter.org
Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at [email protected]. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.