There’s an easy way to tell if you’re talking to a ballerina: look at her feet.
At her house last week, Ruby Jenni got up off the couch and her feet naturally came out on top.
The 13-year-old returned home less than a month after spending the fall semester abroad. She studied ballet – in particular Cuban methodology, an expressive style – at the Academia Cubana de Ballet e Danca in Leiria, Portugal.
His journey began at the inaugural VIBE, USA event in Missoula a year ago this week. The Vienna International Ballet Experience, USA is a five-day dance challenge that brings dancers from around the world to Missoula, and includes a competition, master classes, lectures and a film festival. The second annual VIBE, USA kicks off Tuesday.
Cuban-born ballerina Annarella Sanchez attended last year’s VIBE and connected with Jenni. Sanchez spoke no English, and since Jenni is a student at Missoula International School, she speaks Spanish. Jenni was able to translate for Sanchez – then Sanchez saw her dancing. One of Jenni’s solos made it to the final.
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She gave Jenni a full scholarship to study ballet at her school in Portugal.
“I loved the people there,” Jenni said. “Everyone at the academy is very close. They welcome a lot of foreign dancers. Before I got there, there were dancers from Texas, Brazil and Argentina. They are used to accepting new people, so everyone is super supportive of each other.”
It’s no surprise that Jenni and her older sister Ellie became dancers.
Their grandmother is Juliette Crump, a retired dance teacher and head of the dance department at the University of Montana.
Jenni started dancing at the age of 4, but even if she hadn’t, she suspects she would have always dreamed of dancing.
“Since I’ve been doing this for so long, I feel like I have no choice, because I don’t want to do anything else,” she said. “If I hadn’t done it, I think if I had seen other people dancing, I would have wanted to do it.
“What you can do with dance is so amazing. Ballet has been around for so long…it’s a way to connect with everything.”
Over the past nine years, Jenni has studied ballet (classical and neoclassical), tap, contemporary, jazz, pointe and some flamenco. Classical ballet is the basis of all ballet styles today. Neoclassical comes from the style developed by George Balanchine, a less rigid version of classical ballet.
“Everything I get thrown into, I try,” Jenni said.
She was definitely thrown there overseas. After leaving school each day—Jenni attended a public school—she walked across the street to the dance academy, where she danced until 8 or 9 every night. And on Saturdays, she danced from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
“The Cuban style is based on a 30-hour training week,” she said.
She stayed with a foster family whose daughter was also an academy dancer. They also welcomed two other students, a boy and a girl, both from Portugal. Not only did Jenni get physically stronger over the hours of training, but her language skills skyrocketed.
She said she can now read Portuguese almost as well as English.
This wasn’t Jenni’s first trip abroad for dancing.
She has been to Canada twice, Austria twice, China and a day trip to Germany. During her semester in Portugal, she and other dancers were also able to travel to Paris and take masterclasses at the Grand Prix Youth America, the largest dance competition for young people in the world.
“It went really fast,” she said of that fall. “I didn’t want to go home.”
There are a multitude of variations on classical Russian ballet. Jenni studied the Cuban methodology in school, but she said there was no difficulty adopting it.
“They’re called different things, but it’s all just ballet,” she said. “It’s all dance.”
At the academy, she studied ballet, contemporary and character – a style of folk ballet she had never studied before.
Injuries are inevitable in dance. Jenni dislocated her knee in a flexibility class abroad, although she said it was a freak accident and unrelated to what they were doing in class.
While hanging out at home last week, she stretched her feet, working on tendonitis that started in one foot and is now showing up in the other.
She’s not worried, though, and you can catch her on stage this week as she once again performs on VIBE USA.
“It’s an internal battle,” Jenni said of her future. “One day I want to be an actress in movies, but I never want to stop dancing.”