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Ballet program keeps dancers en pointe
With more than a dozen years of experience, these girls are now the 'company dancers'
Charleston Troutman, 17, practices during the Gainesville Ballet summer intensive camp on Friday at Brenau University. Troutman has been dancing since she was 5. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gainesville Ballet Company

Contact: 770-532-4241 or
Next production: “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 4-6

In one room, 20 or so middle school-aged kids — all but a couple of them girls — sat cross-legged, nervously bouncing their knees and whispering to one another.

They were waiting for their turn to tell their instructor, Dawn Axam, about the dreams for their “butterfly.” Soft techno music played in the background as Axam coaxed each one to tell their story.

Many “butterflies,” it seemed, wanted to be professional ballerinas when they grew up.

Two studios down the hall, a bevy of ballerinas were well on their way to achieving that goal, calmly standing at the barre warming up to classical piano pieces. Instructor Jonah Hooper, a dancer with Atlanta Ballet, led the young women in precise counts, each one with hair neatly tucked into a bun and dressed in a black leotard and pink tights.

Just a few years ago, these dancers were down the hall, giggling with their friends, letting their hair fall in their face and looking up to the older girls — the company dancers for Gainesville Ballet.

“It’s weird being the oldest, because it’s, like, always what you wanted to be — in the company — and then all of a sudden you’re in it,” said Katheryn Ash, 18, a student at White County High School who has been making the after-school drive to Gainesville for lessons since she started elementary school.

And she’s one who got a later start at the whole ballet thing.

Others, like Monica Glosson, 16, a student at North Hall High School, started when they were 3 — in preschool — and liked it so much they kept up with it.

Sure, there were other activities along the way — Glosson said she also played soccer and had a few other activities. “But I just stuck with it,” she said of ballet. “I always just really liked doing ballet.”

Fellow dancer Hannah Patten said it’s a decision you have to make early on.

“You have to, like, make a choice between this and other things,” she said. “In third grade.”

Ash, Glosson, Patten and the other dancers gathered last week at Gainesville Ballet’s summer intensive workshop to start learning pieces for their spring production. As a benefit of being one of the company dancers, the older girls get to perform specific pieces in both “The Nutcracker,” the troupe’s traditional winter performance, as well as the spring performance, which next year will be “Hansel and Gretel.”

And even though it’s summer and school’s out, it doesn’t mean ballet takes a back seat, too. Many of the company dancers spent time this summer at ballet camps, where they focused on perfecting movements and memorizing choreographed pieces.

That extra training came in handy, the young women said during a lunch break at Gainesville Ballet’s summer intensive program last week, because they were in shape for the week’s program. Once the school year starts, the dancers will spend four to five days a week at ballet practice. Sometimes, they’ll even take routines home with them.

“Sometimes you might have a part that’s hard and you have to practice it,” Patten said. “I get my ‘Nutcracker’ videos out at home.”

That type of dedication is possible when it’s something you love, said Hooper, a guest instructor at the summer intensive program who also rose through the ranks at Gainesville Ballet before starting his professional career.

“I think you have to like it, first of all, and have good support from teachers, a good environment for it,” Hooper said. “The nice thing about dance is it’s continually challenging. There’s always something to learn, and I think it attracts people with that work ethic, who like to seek new challenges.”

Like the younger dancers, some of the company dancers said they would like to go on to careers as dancers. Others said it’s possible to keep dancing in college, but pursue another dream, too.

“You can take classes, even if it’s not your major,” said Charleston Troutman, 17, a student at Gainesville High School. “You can either take it at your college or there’s always some studio you can go to.”

Focused, the girls continued their warm-ups, quietly stretching in time to the music. Step outside their calm, collected world and you can hear the giggles of the younger dancers down the hall. Their nervous energy is channeled by Axam into yelps and screams as she moves them into a circle again.

No matter the dancer’s age, she said, it’s important to keep them connected to the arts.

“It will help them to grow and realize they need that in their lives, and it will be a continuous thing for them,” she said, noting how, in other countries, the arts are integrated into children’s lives through regular attendance at operas, plays and musical events.

“I think if we incorporate the arts in our everyday life, we won’t be as tense and our work environments would become more creative,” she said. “Let them tell you a story. Let them paint. Let them draw. Let them be silly. As an adult, we need that release to be silly sometimes.”