- November 17, 2016
It’s cold backstage in the Linda Chapin Theater, but that’s fine. Ballet dancer Sasha De Sola has to warm up anyway.
Between a towering hallway of dark curtains just feet away from stage right, De Sola practices her craft while wearing a black tutu with elegant gold trim.
She hops in place for a moment before stretching her joints. Feet wrapped in silk extend straight out, carrying her entire body weight on her toes. She flexes her feet up and down in a crisscross pattern – her heels kissing the ground for just a second at a time.
The routine almost resembles the pregame warmup of a professional athlete, and that’s not far from the reality of being a world-renowned ballet dancer, De Sola said. It could even be an understatement.
“We’re trained to make it look easy,” she said.
“I would train six hours a day from the age of 11 on. … It’s difficult on the body.”
Later that day she would be performing in front of 2,600 people. But this isn’t just any audience – it’s her hometown crowd.
It’s been four years, but she’s finally come home.
De Sola showcased her ballet skills alongside partner Max Cauthorn on Saturday, June 24 at the World Ballet Competition’s Gala Performance, performing “Black Swan pas de deux” from “Swan Lake” at the Orange County Convention Center.
The 27-year-old knows the Linda Chapin Theater and its backstage well – she grew up performing numerous ballet dances there. She was born in Winter Park Memorial Hospital and grew up not far away in Winter Springs.
But Central Florida isn’t just her home, it’s where she discovered her passion for dance.
Flying into Orlando from where she currently lives in San Francisco, the memories came flooding back for De Sola.
“It felt sort of surreal,” she said.
“Just even getting on 417, it’s very nostalgic. It’s a really good feeling to be back.”
Step by Step
De Sola’s dedication and passion to ballet led her to become a Principal Dancer at the world-famous San Francisco Ballet, but it all started here in Central Florida.
She started dancing at the age of 2 and half, but it wasn’t until she was 8 years old and performed in “The Nutcracker” at the Bob Carr Theater that she truly fell in love with the form of dance.
“Just being a part of the ballet as a whole was so magical to me,” she said.
“Afterwards I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
Despite living in Winter Springs, the Winter Park/Maitland area was where she went to dance. Her first dance studio was the Showtime Children’s Dance Studios in Maitland.
She remembers attending dance classes and walking Park Avenue afterwards while eating ice cream and seeing car shows.
“Every Monday we would go to the Panera at the end of Park Avenue,” De Sola said. “I’d go and order the same thing with my dad.”
“I have a lot of memories there.”
De Sola started dancing competitively at the age of 10, training harder and missing the last 30 minutes of school every Friday to take private lessons.
De Sola made a further commitment to pursuing ballet when she left home to attend the Kirov Academy of Ballet, a ballet boarding school in Washington, D.C.
She was only 13 and living on her own.
“I was very excited but I was definitely nervous and homesick some of the time,” De Sola said. “I was very inspired at that time by the classes there and the teachers and the other students. For me that kind of kept me going through the harder times.”
At 16 she was performing in international ballet competitions and getting noticed.
The hard work eventually led De Sola to the San Francisco Ballet, where she made the climb from Apprentice to Corps de Ballet to Soloist Dancer to finally becoming a Principal Dancer, taking on lead roles in front of 3,000 people on a daily basis.
“You have no idea how proud I am of her,” said De Sola’s father, Edgar. “I’m in awe.”
Dancing through Adversity
But De Sola’s rise to her current position, didn’t come without its challenges. In 2015 De Sola feared she would lose her whole life’s work up to that point. She was rehearsing “La Bayadère” on stage in San Francisco when she felt a sharp pain in her left foot.
Doctors discovered she had torn her Lisfranc ligament – De Sola would not see the stage again for an entire year.
Her ballet shoes sat unused, and for roughly two months of that year she couldn’t even walk.
“That was the longest time in my entire life that I had stopped dancing since I was born,” De Sola said. “I had never taken that much time off.”
“There’s definitely a loss of identity when you don’t get to do what you’ve always done and what you love.”
What followed next was a period where De Sola rediscovered herself and gained perspective.
“Just like performing is a fleeting moment, this career is kind of quick,” she said. “You can’t do it forever, so I try as much as possible to enjoy every moment in it.”
Long sessions of physical therapy and Pilates eventually brought her back to the stage in late February of 2016.
“She works so hard,” Edgar said.
“That was a traumatic experience for all of us. … But she proved her toughness. She went through it, she grinded, she came back and here she is.”
That toughness would allow her to make the jump to Principal Dancer at the San Francisco Ballet in December of 2016 – despite the setback of the injury, which she’s made a full recovery from.
“I’m kind of pinching myself that I’ve made it here, but I also know how hard it’s been every step of the way,” De Sola said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication.”
Take a Bow
There’s a sense of pure innocence and freedom when dancing on stage, De Sola said. She remembers experiencing it for the very first time at her “Nutcracker” performance when she was 8 years old. Her mind still goes back to that feeling whenever she’s caught up in the stress and pressure of being a professional dancer.
De Sola said she always remembers bowing more than the performance itself. In that brief moment during the applause, she remembers why she started dancing in the first place.
It all comes back to De Sola when she bends at the knees, gracefully lifts her arms outward to each side, and bows.
“That’s what I love about live performance. It’s a fleeting moment. You can never capture it again unless you were there. I find that to be very special.”