For more than two centuries, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow has nurtured some of the world’s most illustrious dancers.
Nine-year-old Aela Bailey of Jamesport hopes to become one of them.
A fourth-grader at Aquebogue Elementary School, Aela recently spent eight hours a day for three weeks training with 30 other young dancers in the Bolshoi’s competitive summer intensive program at Lincoln Center in New York.
“I got blisters on every single toe,” she said proudly Friday at Mo Chuisle Moya Strast School of Dance in Mattituck. For emphasis, the long-limbed girl extended her left foot, outfitted that day in white sandals instead of ballet slippers.
Minor injuries are just part of the territory for Aela, who began studying ballet six years ago under the instruction of Mo Chuisle’s owner, Bolshoi-trained ballerina Cheryl Kiel. Aela’s friend and fellow dancer, Ellie Schultz, 10, of Jamesport, also auditioned for the Bolshoi’s summer intensive earlier this year and was accepted to the school’s Connecticut program.
“The Bolshoi is the biggest company in the world,” Ms. Kiel, a Babylon native, said. “And to have us accepted there was —“
“A little bit surreal, I think, right?” Aela’s father, Gene, interjected. “I almost didn’t believe it.”
According to Rina Kirschner, vice president of the Russian American Foundation, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s summer intensive program offers students from around the world ages 9 to 22 the chance to train with master teachers in New York City or Connecticut for three to six weeks during the summer. Aela trained July 20 to Aug. 8.
“Both Aela and Ellie were able to expand their personal, cultural and pre-professional horizons through intensive ballet training with master teachers from Moscow, [the] study of Russian language and interaction with talented dancers from all over the world,” Ms. Kirschner said. “Both Aela and Ellie worked extremely hard and made substantial progress.”
Mr. Bailey, an air traffic controller at New York Center in Ronkonkoma, and his wife, Amy, a nurse practitioner, rented an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side while Aela was training. The couple took turns looking after their three other children, 11-year-old son Quinnlan and daughters Maeve, 7, and Paige, 5.
Aela, who trains four to five days a week in Mattituck — “She complains when she doesn’t get to,” her father said — auditioned for the intensive in January. She also tried out for the American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive and was accepted there as well.
“The ABT does a mixture of jazz and tap, too,” Aela said, explaining why she declined its invitation. “I wanted to go to the Bolshoi because I thought it was better to focus on ballet.”
A typical day at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy began with an hour of stretching, she said. Students also practiced technique, studied the Russian language and choreographed a dance routine.
The program’s teachers, who fly in from Moscow for the summer and speak varying degrees of English, were strict about correcting technique, Aela said. This is a Bolshoi hallmark, and one of the reasons its dancers are so successful, Ms. Kiel said.
“My teachers imparted so much knowledge to me that I’m able to pass on,” she said. “They were very good at telling me why, and not just telling me to do it. They actually fixed you.”
The Bolshoi summer intensive may be over, but Aela’s journey is just beginning.
“I wanna go to Moscow,” she whispered with a smile to Ms. Kiel.
And one day, she may very well make it to the Bolshoi’s renowned stage in the heart of Russia.
“I see really, really positive things for Aela,” Ms. Kiel said. “She’s a hard worker, she never complains, and she has a love for it, which is what you need because it’s such a rough life — the classes, the stretching. It can be painful when you get on your toes. And she has what it takes. She has the desire, which is the biggest thing.”