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Young Ballet Dancer Takes a Big Leap

Daniel Benavides got his training with local folklorico and ballet groups. He's headed to a national program.


Getting a spot in the exclusive summer training programs offered by the American Ballet Theater is an honor for any young dancer. Over 4,000 students audition for 407 spots in four programs across the country.

But for Daniel Benavides, 17, who will attend the program in Tuscaloosa, Ala., just auditioning was exciting.

Most dancers begin training at an early age, taking years to develop the required flexibility, skill and strength.

Benavides didn't begin his ballet training until a year ago.

The junior in high school fell into ballet almost accidentally, joining a dance group at Anaheim High School requiring participation in a program called Step Up! at the Anaheim Ballet on Lincoln Avenue.

Geared toward students who couldn't otherwise afford the ballet and hip-hop classes, Step Up! helped Benavides realize his passion for ballet. His teachers recognized his dedication and talent and Benavides quickly made the transition into more advanced classes. A few months later, he participated in his first performance and auditioned for ABT's summer program.

Benavides has improved quickly through hard work and determination, said Anaheim Ballet artistic director Larry Rosenberg. "He's gone from where even a beginning class was challenging. . . . He's now at a point where ABT says he can get in a career track line," Rosenberg said.

Benavides has a dancer's physique, with long legs and arms, and also has good flexibility and coordination, Rosenberg said.

ABT looks for similar qualities when selecting the summer students, said Rebecca Wright, artistic director of summer training programs for ABT. "We try to serve individuals who seem to have a passion and potential," she said.

Though Benavides had never performed ballet before Step Up!, he has always loved dance. For years, he did baile folklorico--Mexican folk dancing--taking free classes at the Anaheim Community Center since he was in elementary school. But once he began ballet, that became his priority.

"I liked everything. I liked the jumps, the turning," said Benavides.

Four days a week after school, Benavides and three friends from Step Up! make their way to the Anaheim Ballet, where they spend their afternoons taking two classes a day. On Saturdays, he spends most of his day in the studio.

With all the time spent at the dance studio, Benavides has little time for other hobbies, but he still works about 12 hours a week at Pizza Hut in Fullerton and maintains a 3.0 grade point average.

The experience of training with the prestigious ABT of New York City is one he never expected, but it's one he can't pass up. Though the program costs about $2,000--an amount he and his family cannot afford--that hasn't dissuaded the young dancer. He's become his own advocate, asking the city, his friends at school and others to sponsor his trip. So far, he's raised $1,250, and he's confident he can raise the rest.

At the summer program, Benavides will dance all day, sometimes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., receiving instruction from American Ballet Theater's dancers and former dancers, Wright said.

Rosenberg and his wife Sarma, co-artistic directors of Anaheim Ballet, said they're glad to have provided Benavides' training. That's what Step Up! is all about, they said. "We see how it changes people's lives and gives them a different mind-set. The point is, any kid can accomplish anything given the opportunity," Sarma Rosenberg said.

Judy Silber can be reached at (714) 966-5988

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