Her auburn hair pulled back into a tight bun, 9-year-old Ellie Schultz practices jetés on the hardwood floors.
Ellie, who is small for her age, leaps swiftly from one foot to the other across the small studio in Mattituck, her freckled face a canvas of concentration.
“You missed a step,” instructor Cheryl Kiel tells Ellie. “Do it again,” she says encouragingly.
Uncomplaining, the ballerina completes several more series of jumps, not seeming to tire. Only once, after a set of particularly successful jetés, does Ellie allow herself to convey any emotion. She glances quickly at herself in a large mirror.
Ellie has good reason to smile. The Aquebogue Elementary School third-grader was recently accepted to the American Ballet Theatre’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop, a fiercely competitive two-week program in New York City. She was encouraged to audition by Ms. Kiel, who owns Mo Chuisle Moya Strast School of Dance on Pike Street and has instructed Ellie in Russian ballet for the past four years.
“She’s the first student I’ve had that I felt was ready for the program,” Ms. Kiel says. “I told her mom from the first time I gave her a private lesson that I knew she had special talent. Being a ballet dancer myself I can see the feet, the body, the alignment. I knew if she had the correct training she would probably be able to do something [with it].”
“I think it might be cool to try it,” Ellie says shyly of the Young Dancer Summer Workshop, for which she auditioned in January. The 14-day program, which begins at the end of July and will be held at ABT’s dance studio in Union Square, is for dancers ages 9 through 12. For five days each week, Ellie will take ballet classes and attend educational workshops on topics such as nutrition and technique.
Ballet has been a part of the Jamesport girl’s life for nearly as long as she can remember. When Ellie was in kindergarten, her mother, Debbie Schultz, signed her up for one of Ms. Kiel’s group ballet classes. The then-5-year-old had joined the class a few months later than her peers so Ms. Schultz, who works for Honeywell, a technology company, enrolled her daughter in private lessons with Ms. Kiel to help her catch up with the other students for an upcoming recital. Ellie learned the material quickly and began to flourish. She now comes to Mo Chuisle four days a week and dances alongside teenagers in an advanced class.
“She quickly fell in love with ballet,” Ms. Schultz says of her eldest child. She and her husband, Fred, who owns Sterlington Deli in Greenport, also have a 6-year-old daughter, Sadie.
Her raw talent aside, Ellie’s determination and studious approach to ballet help set her further apart from other dancers her age.
When she was 6, the wisp of a girl walked into the dance studio wearing a white tutu and clutching the sheet music for “Giselle,” a famous French ballet in which she was set to perform a solo during an upcoming recital.
“I need to do it again,” Ms. Kiel remembers Ellie telling her. “I don’t have the timing right.”
“That’s when I knew she was different,” Ms. Kiel recalled.
Ms. Kiel grew up in Babylon and has been teaching Russian ballet, which emphasizes the development of a strong upper body and use of the arms, for 12 years. As a teenager, she trained seven days a week with a number of teachers, including Yuli Zorov, a graduate of the internationally famous Bolshoi School in Moscow. This particular afternoon, Ellie is practicing a solo from the comic ballet “Coppélia,” which she’ll perform in June in a recital at Pulaski Street School in Riverhead. After doing some pliés at the barre to warm up, the 9-year-old waits, her tiny body composed but relaxed, for the music to start. When it does, the song, with its intense dramatic flair, provides a stark contrast to Ellie’s innocent face. As she dances, she exhibits a gracefulness unusual for a 9-year-old girl: it’s almost womanly, with focused but fluid movements.
“All little girls love ballet; when Ellie dances you can see that she has something extra,” says Linda Stavrinos, the mother of one of Elllie’s classmates. “You can just see it.”
Ellie’s talent is undisputed, but when the ballet slippers come off, she’s a 9-year-old who likes writing, playing lacrosse and going to sleepovers at a friend’s house. When asked what she likes about ballet, she answers, “My teacher.”
“We never really pushed her, Fred and I,” Ms. Schultz says. “We always ask her, ‘Do you still want to continue? Is this what you want to do?’ She has always wanted to take more classes. She loves being here.”
Does she want to be a ballerina when she gets older?
“Sure. Maybe. I don’t know,” the girl says.
And then, perhaps pondering the future, she smiles.