Dance Like Everyone Is Watching

CPYB Offers First-in-the-Nation Female Training Scholarship

By Diane White McNaughton • Photo By Joel Thomas Photography

Last year, Vivienne Gaied, 15, sashayed her way across the country, from Portland, Oregon to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to live out a dream.

But unlike Tchaikovsky’s magical sugarplum dreams of “The Nutcracker,” her fantasy can actually come true. She hopes to become a professional ballerina, choreographer and ballet teacher, and is well on her way to checking that item off on her bucket list.

Gaied relocated to the mecca of classical ballet –Carlisle, Pennsylvania–home of the world-renowned Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), just last year. 

Now a ninth-grader at Carlisle High School and a rising star in the world of tight buns, tutus, and twirls, she has been dancing for four years, improving by leaps and bounds in a very short period of time. 

Although she tried her hand at diving and piano lessons in her younger years, “I started dancing because it is an art form that includes music, acting, sport, and creativity. It’s a perfect storm!” says Gaied.  

She and her family know that this storm can be costly. If she is eligible, she hopes to apply for a new, one-of-a-kind benefit now being offered to promising CPYB students like her:  the Female Training Scholarship.

“In the dance world, there are fewer boys than girls, so schools offer more scholarships to boys to encourage them to attend those schools,” says Gaied. “But there are still many very talented female dancers who cannot attend because they don’t have the resources. Offering this type of scholarship to girls as well allows more talent to develop throughout the whole student body.” 

CPYB’s CEO Nicholas Ade is a professional dancer who earned one of those coveted ballet scholarships for males as a young teen, and he applauds the leveling of the playing field to girls studying at CPYB. 

Ade played baseball, football, and basketball as a child. When he wanted to up his game, he decided to take ballet lessons at the tender age of 10.

It was the hardest thing he had ever done. At first, his fellow teammates were eye-rolling at his ballet classes —until, that is, they saw how much better Ade became in sports. They could not match his agility.  

For Ade, the ball-playing soon dropped away, but the ballet stuck with him like pink tights over chiseled muscle.

He started as a guest teacher in CPYB’s summer programs in 2004.  He became a full-time teacher in 2008, ascended to school principal for a year and a half, and then, in 2014, he was promoted to CEO.

His rise through the ranks helped him to know every facet of the CPYB organization.

Ade brought impressive credentials to the school and stage. He trained in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised, attending high school for ballet at the prestigious University of North Carolina School of the Arts. 

He later joined the San Francisco Ballet and became a professional dancer for 10 years.  

Ade said Act One in the tale of the new scholarship began with the iconic woman whose name is synonymous with regional ballet, Marcia Dale Weary.  Weary passed away in March 2019, but Ade hopes to keep alive “her vision of changing lives through dance” by creating access for those who want to study and perform world-class ballet. 

CPYB had scholarships before, but this scholarship is unique, he says. This year, they want to be able to create access for ballet students nationwide, he explains, noting that this is the first female training scholarship for girls in the U.S.

From a young age, far more girls than boys are interested in ballet, so much so that girls are estimated to outnumber boys by a ratio of 20-to-1 in ballet classes. About 7 out of 10 donors and audience members are women as well. 

Ade says many aspiring ballerinas can apply for scholarships at any ballet school, but those scholarship awards may only be good for a nine-month school year, from September through June. That means, no summer months, and no long-term commitment.

With the new female training scholarship, it now mirrors the male scholarship program started in 2013, says Ade.  It is a 24-month scholarship, for a commitment to two years of the best ballet training possible.

It is for 24 full months of tuition for “rigorous” training, plus a housing stipend, to help the many out-of-state ballerinas who are relocating here to study ballet.

CPYB is working with trade magazines, social media, email blasts, and their own website to help spread the word. As of mid-December, the school already had three applications to consider.

Applicants must submit a video consisting of classwork and “variations”—or solo dances—by Feb. 1.  An artistic leadership panel will pick the winners.  Worth $20,000 each, the scholarship starts in the summer of 2020 and lasts through June of 2022.

“We are so excited by it,” says Ade.  “We are making an investment in the future of the dance world and in someone’s life.  We want to change someone’s life with this scholarship.”

CPYB went from 4 to 54 boys with their scholarship in just six years. “We want to level the playing field” for girls with this scholarship.

Their male ballet students hail from Hawaii, Washington State, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and beyond.

The prime age for young women-applicants is 14 to 16 years.  This is “a crucial time in their training,” says Ade, when “they can improve immensely.”  

Ade says  that CPYB has been able to raise the barre on its teaching quality because of its curriculum, for one.  The syllabus was founded by Marcia Dale Weary and has worked since 1955.

“It’s a proven syllabus that has created hundreds of professional ballet dancers around the world,” he adds.

While some ballet schools have gotten a bad rap as havens for fat-shaming and overly harsh discipline, CPYB bends over backwards to “take care of the whole dancer,” says Ade.

“We take mentorship seriously. We offer the best training, plus the best support system.”

Currently, 40 percent of students relocated to Carlisle to come to CPYB, from 23 states.

“We take care of them, both as human beings and dancers,” says Ade. “We can make dreams come true. We can create access to come and train with us and take them to the next level of training and change their life.”

Ade was one of those kids. When he was 15, he wanted to move away from his home in California to study ballet at the highest level.  His parents balked, citing his young age. 

A fellow dancer talked to Ade’s parents, and said, “This is his big chance.” Ade’s parents said he couldn’t move away unless he got a scholarship.  And BOOM! He did. Now he wants to do that for other young dancers.

“If they just had a chance, they could rise up and exceed expectations.”

Central Pennsylvania is a magnet for ballerinas, says Ade. With CPYB as the resident ballet company at Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, “We offer world-class performances here at Whitaker Center and Hershey Theatre,” he adds. 

Ade also says their goal is not to bring the Big Apple to central Pennsylvania—“We are already here. 

“We have been here for 60 years,” explains Ade.  He emphasized that you don’t have to go to New York City to see George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” CPYB is the only school licensed to perform the beloved holiday staple because of its excellence as a world-class ballet school and their professionalism.

Ade has a message for residents who are new to ballet. “You might not even like ballet, but many of our patrons come to see our community’s kids performing at such a high level. When you see these kids, how can you not get behind them?”

They begin to understand that this is something “unique and special happening because we want to level the playing field for young women in ballet.

“While the men’s program has been successful for the past six years, I want young women in school to feel just as valued and feel that this school is just as accessible to them as anybody else,” says Ade.

Darla Hoover, CPYB’s Artistic Director, is in perfect synch with that idea. Born in Carlisle, Hoover was trained by Dale Weary until the age of 15, when she moved by herself to New York City.  She trained at the School of American Ballet. Then the iconic George Balanchine invited her to become part of the New York City Ballet, where she danced for 11 years.

At the pinnacle of the ballet scene, she danced in “The Nutcracker” in New York and in more than 50 other ballets.

When did she return to Pennsylvania? “I never really left central Pennsylvania,” says Hoover. “I always came back to teach with Marcia. I never really left.

“I am really grateful for (Weary). She trained me how to teach.”  Hoover even taught other students while she was still a student herself.

Hoover says she  transitioned from a professional dancer to teacher so easily because it was an “obvious choice.

“There is no way to deny that Balanchine and his style have been a huge influence on me,” Hoover says. But it is so much broader than that.  

“The beauty of CPYB is a training program to direct dancers into any form of ballet,” she says.  “It is such a great training program. They come with a clean slate. Dancers can mold themselves into any style they choose.”

Hoover says that the Female Training Scholarship is so “important because we love what we do and we are very good at what we do. We need to provide opportunity for dancers who deserve training but can’t afford to do it.”

“These families sacrifice so much when they have a child pursuing this art form,” says Hoover. “We want to be able to provide a pathway to their dreams. It’s a beautiful mission to help people study ballet the right way. It lets you sleep better at night, knowing you are letting people realize their dreams.”

Hoover says the key attributes they are looking for in a scholarship applicant are the right blend of physicality, the right mentality, and some training. She emphasizes that the training has to be the “right training” because improper training can do more damage than no training at all. 

Proper training is like sculpting, she explains—their leg lines, their strength, their turn-out. If a dancer is trained poorly, it is often difficult to undo the bad, especially the older they get.

CPYB wants “malleable bodies and they have to have a hunger and a sense of urgency for good training,” says Hoover. They also want dancers ready to commit to a full two years. 

They must also submit applications and videos to be considered.  Hoover admits that some young dancers may have the desire but not the capability to leap to the top of their field.  

And even if they are not the lead in a New York City ballet, the training from CPYB reaps rewards that lasts a lifetime.  

Hoover cites the focus needed, the high standards, the etiquette, “Everything goes into building a better person. Ballet will make them a better lawyer, a better doctor, whatever they choose to do.”

“Former dancers are always the best workers,” says Hoover emphatically.  “They are tenacious, they are not lazy, they are never sloppy, they take instruction well.

Strict standards begin at the age of six for tiny dancers, who learn to rise to those standards.“It’s not okay to be complacent,” she adds.

Hoover laments the fact that many Americans do not understand what “real” ballet is. “They have these horrible images of twirling around with your arms over your head.”

Hoover also knows “the value (ballerinas) bring to humanity is immense.”

When she brings leading businessmen and women in to observe a ballet class, she enjoys watching their mouths drop open. “They often say, ‘I had no idea,’ and ‘They are amazing athletes.’”  

“And I always say, ‘They are amazing athletes with hearts of gold. They know how to bring beauty into the world.’”

Those words are echoed by the high school freshman who is dazzling the dance world already.

“Like soccer or football, ballet strengthens character and teaches hard work and perseverance, but unlike sports, ballet is an art form and the final goal is to create beauty. I think our communities could benefit from young people working together to make art,” says Gaied.For her, CPYB is about lasting friendships, self-discovery and beauty.

That explains why Gaied’s  favorite quote is from “Willy Wonka:” “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” And of course, she is en pointe.