Ava Busby could be considered a typical 13-year-old student at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School — good grades, athletic, and friendly — with one exception.
Ava Busby is a ballerina – tall, slender, graceful and poised – and watching her stretch and bend next to the ballet barre in a black leotard, it’s easy to imagine her moves to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev or Leonard Bernstein.
And now Ava Busby hopes to take part in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s intensive summer program. Getting this far hasn’t been easy, but looking at her you know she’s on her way.
It’s something about those graceful moves, as she goes “en pointe” on her ballet slippers, with one arm holding the barre and the other above her head, almost floating in an elegant arch. , fingers delicately relaxed. Classic!
“It’s not a hobby,” she said. “It’s not a hobby. It’s an art. Busby is deadly serious about ballet.
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She attends two ballet classes a week in St. Helena, another two weekly ballet classes in Santa Rosa, and also volunteers at St. Helena’s “Little Feet” dance class twice a week to help young people in ballet.
Her teacher and “Little Feet” principal, Connie Dolan, said she recognized Busby’s talents early on and encouraged her to push herself and challenge herself. Last year, Dolan encouraged her to travel to New York to audition for intensive summer ballet workshops. So Busby and her mother signed up to audition for the School of American Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey School of Ballet and, Busby’s biggest dream, the Bolshoi Ballet.
According to Busby, being accepted into a summer intensive workshop is a major achievement towards the process of becoming a professional dancer.
“Thousands of girls show up for these national auditions competing for a place in an intensive summer program,” she said. “These are the best schools for professional ballet dancers in the United States.” And she said she was very nervous because the competition is quite intense.
Each girl’s audition lasted between an hour and an hour and a half. While other girls were auditioning, she was not allowed to speak. Busby said very few even spoke to each other later, although they often recognized each other in a previous audition. These series of “competitions” were held every weekend in January, Busby said.
Of course, she realized she might not get in. “It was my first time auditioning for a summer intensive,” she recalls. “And at the end of January, I learned that I was on the waiting list for two of the schools.”
And then the magic phone call came. “I was accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet…the most famous of them all!”
She got in, but the Bolshoi Academy Summer Intensive Workshop isn’t cheap. Tuition, Busby said, is $2,500 for three weeks, plus airfare, expensive pointe shoes and accommodation. (She is too young to stay in the dorm and her mother has to accompany her.)
Her parents, both full-time chefs working long hours, told her she needed to find a way to contribute, perhaps finding a scholarship.
“The St. Helena Soroptimist Club has been extremely generous,” said Busby’s mother, Barbara Alexander. “They contributed a thousand dollars to Ava’s program. And I found a room just three blocks from the school through Air B&B.
Busby also said she was extremely grateful for the help from the Soroptimist Club and said she planned to give a presentation to the club about her experience at the end of the summer. But it’s still going to be an effort to make it all work out financially.
So, the 13-year-old is seeking more help to make her dream of attending the Bolshoi Academy’s summer intensive a reality, asking for contributions for this next important step in her career. All the while, she continues her extensive dance training.
“I now do about 10 hours of ballet a week, working very hard to make sure I’m ready for this summer schedule,” she wrote to the St. Helena Star.
“While taking ballet lessons, I volunteer two days a week at the Little Feet Dance School to help young girls ages 6-8 achieve their dreams. I also maintain a 4.0 cumulative grade point average.
You can also notice her intense academic focus as she takes her break from dance class, diligently working on her homework for classes the next day. And it seems to be paying off. She received two student of the term awards, was selected to be a school safety ambassador by her peers and teachers, and was also one of only three seventh graders to be selected by her teachers for a week-long STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) camp for girls.
“It’s funny because I’ve often heard people say that ballet is not a sport,” she wrote to the St. Helena Star. “It’s not football, baseball or basketball. However, it takes a lot more to be a dancer. It takes perseverance, hard work, training, imagination and creativity.
“I hope to find scholarships for serious young students trying to pursue their dreams,” she wrote.
If you would like to help Ava Busby achieve her goal, you can contact her at her mother, Barbara Alexander, 480 Madia Lane, Angwin, CA 94508.