Bolshoi ballerina graces Sacred Heart

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In addition to ballet training, Olivia spent a significant portion of her time in Moscow immersing herself in the Russian culture, such visiting St. Basil's Cathedral. Courtesy of Olivia Thurman '16

Convent of the Sacred Heart junior Olivia Thurman had an en pointe experience this summer when she participated in nine weeks of intensive ballet training in both New York City and Moscow, Russia.
Olivia, a new student to the junior class, brings 12 years of dancing experience to Sacred Heart. She devoted this past summer to her love of ballet, and continues to devote much of her time to this passion during the school year.

In addition to ballet training, Olivia spent a significant portion of her time in Moscow immersing herself in the Russian culture, such visiting St. Basil's Cathedral. Courtesy of Olivia Thurman '16
In addition to ballet training, Olivia spent a significant portion of her time in Moscow immersing herself in the Russian culture, such visiting St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Courtesy of Olivia Thurman ’16

Olivia, along with 15 other dancers ages 15 through 17, completed three weeks of  ballet training at the Russian-American Foundation New York Summer Intensive program in Manhattan. She then spent six weeks in Moscow training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
“We are extremely proud of Olivia and all of her hard work. She has represented what we aspire to do at Greenwich Ballet Academy with poise and confidence, and her experience will help further her career in both ballet and academics,” Mr. Yuri Vodolaga, Artistic Director of the Greenwich Ballet Academy, said according to greenwichballetacademy.org.  
Olivia began ballet at Dance Cavise when she was four years old. At age nine, she started taking her ballet career more seriously and switched to Greenwich Ballet Academy (GBA), the studio where she still dances today. Currently, she dances six days a week for up to 4.5 hours a day.
When Olivia was younger, she had severe amblyopia, or crossed eyes, and low muscle tone. Her mother thought that ballet would help her coordination, depth perception, and muscle strength. After a few years of dance classes, Olivia realized that she wanted to pursue ballet further, and it quickly turned from an after-school activity to a passion.
Olivia has trained in primarily ballet throughout her dance career, but also takes classes in modern dance and character, a style of dance that involves different folk dancing techniques. She found that while the ballet training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy was similar to her training in Greenwich, there were some differences in the teaching styles and techniques.
“The ballet classes were similar to the classes that I take at GBA in that they were taught in the same method emphasized at my school, the Vaganova method,” Olivia said. “However, every teacher is different and even from week to week the classes would vary slightly in terms of combinations and steps.”
Olivia’s familiarity with the Vaganova method, a style of ballet that incorporates both French and Italian techniques, helped her adapt to new aspects that she was not familiar with, such as the different type of floor.
“The most prominent difference at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy was the floor. We were dancing on raked floors, which are slanted floors,” Olivia said. “I had never experienced dancing on a raked floor before, and it took some time getting used to dancing on an angle, particularly when en pointe.”
In addition to her daily training, Olivia also spent four hours a day studying the Russian language, history and culture through the Russian National Security Language Initiative for Youth program (NSLI-Y).
“It was an amazing experience learning Russian and getting to know the Russian culture. I had never studied Russian formally, although I have grown up with Russian ballet teachers,” Olivia said. Though learning the Russian language was very difficult at times, I loved it.”
Olivia took advantage of her opportunities and worked very hard throughout the program to expand her linguistic skills.
“Once we were there, I took every chance I had to improve,” Olivia said. “I carried around a pocket dictionary, practiced writing and reading in the Cyrillic alphabet, and even created a personal dictionary of useful phrases and words.”
In order to be accepted into both programs, Olivia underwent a rigorous application progress. She first auditioned in January for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy New York Summer Intensive, which is run by the Russian American Foundation. After her acceptance into this program, she then had to apply to the NSLI-Y.
Despite the demanding application process, the many hours of ballet training, and the difficult Russian language classes, Olivia believes her experience was worthwhile and enjoyable. She returned from Russia with not only improved ballet skills, but also a greater appreciation and understanding of the Russian society.
“The most important thing I learned in Russia is my understanding of its culture and people,” Olivia said. “With a knowledge of different cultures, I can relate to so many other types of people and understand certain cultural traits that I might have otherwise judged for being different.”
Because ballet is such a large time commitment, Olivia sometimes finds it difficult to split her time between both school and dance. However, Olivia has learned to manage this tight schedule, and is willing to sacrifice free time for her love of ballet.

“It can be difficult to balance ballet and school. I always go straight to ballet after school, and usually get home around 8:00 pm or later. Because I get home so late, it can be hard to finish my homework at a reasonable time, so I usually go to bed very late,” Olivia said. “This daily routine goes on throughout the year, and even during the summer. Basically, I never get a break from ballet.”

Olivia is still unsure of where her ballet career will lead her . However, she does know that ballet will always remain a part of her life, and her time at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy has further deepened her love for the sport. 
“I don’t know what I want to do with ballet in the future. To be a professional ballerina, I would have to put my college education on hold, and I’m not sure if I’m prepared to do that,” Olivia said. “However, I know that I will dance in college and I am sure I’ll be involved with ballet throughout my life. I am a ballerina, and that will always be a defining part of my identity.”
-Anna Phillips, Content Editor