From Injury to Illuminating Soloist Role: How one young ballet dancer came back to perform a principal role after a severe injury.
BUFFALO, NY – Neglia Ballet Artists is proud to have powerhouse Stephanie Waite, age 18, perform as a soloist in this year’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” to kick off the holiday season at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
Waite may only be 18, but since she first began training at Neglia Conservatory of Ballet, she has proven she has more than natural ability; she has strength, perservence and passion. At age three Waite’s family knew she was born to move. From gymnastics to acro to competitive dance teams, Waite continually proved to be talented, winning competitions throughout Canada and the United States. It wasn’t until she trained with Neglia Conservatory of Ballet over the summer at nine years old that she knew she was a dancer at heart. She always thought dance was a hobby and wanted to be a Marine Biologist, until she attended Neglia Ballet’s Summer Intensive on the recommendation of her competition team coach. “Since the first time I saw her at a young age I saw talent,” says Sergio Neglia, Artistic Director of Neglia Conservatory of Ballet. Over the course of 5 weeks, she trained in ballet 6 hours a day, five days a week. It sounds daunting to some but after that experience she knew she “had to dance for a career” because she “loved it so much.”
At age 10 Waite was cast in her first Neglia Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” Neglia reminenced, “She grew up from a little cupcake, to a baker, danced Marie, snow corps and now she will dance Flower, a role I wanted her to dance since she was little.” Despite her bright future, taking the stage this Thanksgiving was not all cupcakes and fairytales. Three years ago Waite suffered from a hip injury. “Emotionally, I became really frustrated with myself as things that used to come so naturally were becoming more and more difficult for me to do” says Waite. At first she was just advised to take it easy and follow certain restrictions while training. As the pain worsened she was advised to take a break from dancing altogether. To an aspiring dancer whose heart is set on becoming a professional, the decision was not made lightly. To further the frustration and disappointment, the recommended surgery could not be performed right away. Waite was placed on a two-year waiting list. “For a while I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue dancing as I thought I would never be able to do what I intended with my life.”
In October 2016 Waite was finally able to have the hip surgery she waited so long for, but it took her a lot longer to get back into a good mindset. After 5 months of intense physical therapy she was granted permission to start dancing full time again. Without a guarantee that she would ever perform at the level which she was once capable, she set aside her fears and frustration and set new goals for herself. In the summer of 2017 Stephanie came back to Neglia Conservatory of Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program. “For me” commented Neglia, “seeing her back and seeing she has not lost that of what I teach her is truly a dream come true.”
Now commuting from Canada six days a week, Waite has proven not only to her instructors but to herself that there is nothing she can’t achieive if she sets her mind towards it. Neglia says, “Her artistry is beautiful, she can express the style of dance I teach and that is actually not easy it’s so different to the way most Americans are taught.” Her advice to young dancers is this, “You can do things that you never thought you could if you just let yourself. Listen to your teachers because they’re there to help you be the best that you can be.”
The first role Waite performed after returning from her three-year hiatis was not just a small role, it was a lead role in “Baba Yaga”, one of great physical and technical demands. “I’ve been doing shows with Neglia since age 10 and now I’m being given the chance to perform parts that I never would have even dreamed of. Being the Lead Flower in The Nutcracker is so exciting for me!” In past years, Lead Flower has been played by industry professionals from American Ballet Theatre and Pittsburg Ballet soloist, Gabrielle Thurlow (an alum of Neglia Conservatory of Ballet). It goes without saying Waite’s determination has given her the ability to achieve her dreams. It would have been far easier to give up and tell herself she wasn’t meant to be a dancer but in her mind, “If you suffer an injury, you’re not done until you decide that you’re done.”
Inspired? You too can witness this amazing young women as she dances alongside internationally reknown guest artists as they take the stage for the ninth annual performance of Neglia Ballet Artists “The Nutcracker” in collaboration with Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra who will play Tchaikovsky’s iconic “The Nutcracker” score. Reviewer Steve Sucato says the collaboration reinforces “that love affair with a magical production that excited the senses and warmed the hearts of audience members of all ages.” This year, the addition of renowned guest artists takes this already world-class production to new heights.
This year’s production of “The Nutcracker” will again be conducted by the BPO’s Associate Conductor, Stefan Sanders and have the special touch of The Buffalo Girlchoir and Chamber Singers singing live from the balcony during the iconic snow scene choreographed by Heidi Halt.
In Neglia’s traditional staging of “The Nutcracker” we follow young Marie on her journey through a wondrous battle scene, breathtaking winter wonderland and delectable land of sweets. Buffalo News called a previous year’s production “a holiday spectacle capable of eliciting wide-eyed wonder in children of all ages.” It is the perfect tradition of holiday memories, live ballet, orchestral music all under one magical historic roof. Enjoy the show on Saturday, November 25th at 7pm or Sunday, November 26th at 2pm.