By Heather Skolnick
Right around age four when princesses and ballerinas rule the world and tutus get worn to the supermarket, many girls dream of becoming a ballerina. My own four-year-old daughter started taking lessons and loves her weekly class in head to toe pink.
Contrast that with Chappaqua teen Skyla Schreter, a professional dancer with the prestigious Boston Ballet. She didn’t like ballet her first year, but at age 18, has an incredible resume of ballet training and performances including the New York City Ballet, Jacob’s Pillow and the Guggenheim. She has even been favorably reviewed by the New York Times.
It began in first grade when Skyla expressed an interest in taking jazz. Immediately her instructors noticed an innate ability and moved her into a more advanced group. She branched into hip hop. Skyla’s mom, Sena, pointed out if Skyla were serious about dancing, she must learn ballet as well.
The rest is history. Skyla began taking ballet and immediately knew that she wanted to pursue it further. She took classes at the Scarsdale Ballet Studio and supplemental lessons with renowned ballerinas trained directly by George Balanchine. (Balanchine is considered the Father of American Ballet). At age 10, she transitioned to The School of American Ballet in the city. One must audition for admission, and each year, each dancer must be asked to stay. The program is incredibly prestigious and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.
By 7th grade, Skyla could no longer continue her education within the Chappaqua schools due to her demanding training schedule. She enrolled in the Professional Children’s School in NYC. She practiced for three hours a day, had three hours of rehearsal and possibly another two hours of performing. Add about four hours of school, and Skyla had a very full schedule! Mom and Dad shared the driving responsibilities; 6:30am into the city and as late as 10pm home some nights.
When Skyla was 14, she began commuting on her own. At 16, she was boarding in the city. Each year, she was readmitted to The School of American Ballet–that alone is an impressive feat. Out of the original class of 23 children, Skyla was the only dancer remaining by graduation. Throughout her years at The School of American Ballet, Skyla was performing in almost all of the NYC Ballet’s children’s roles, including the coveted lead role in Susan Stroman’s “Double Feature.”
There were literal and figurative costs along the way. The expense of training plus private school tuition was significant–but Skyla earned scholarships throughout her training. Skyla’s demanding schedule didn’t leave much time for friends’ parties and socializing, but mom said of her daughter, “She didn’t feel like she had to sacrifice anything. It was the cost of pursuing her dream.”
Few careers are without setback, and Skyla’s was no exception. In 11th grade she underwent major surgery for an injury exacerbated by dancing. Without surgery, her career would likely have been over. Skyla was required to take an extended break from dancing which only solidified her passion for ballet. Sena said, “Never, ever did she have a question about wanting to pursue this.”
Upon graduation, Skyla accepted an offer to join the prestigious Boston Ballet. Sena uses a sports analogy when describing the odds of one being accepted into the Boston Ballet, saying “It’s kind of like making the NBA.”
Skyla is part of the Boston Ballet’s second company. The Boston Ballet describes it as one that “bridges the gap between a dancer’s formal training and their professional career.” She earns a salary, benefits and pointe shoes. A ballerina goes through two to three pairs of shoes each week at $90 each!
In August, Skyla participated in their “Night of Stars” on Boston Common in celebration of their 50th Season. The event was attended by approximately 55,000 people! She currently performs regularly with the main company. Skyla is now a college student too. She recently enrolled part time in Northeastern University’s Boston Ballet Education Program.
Reminiscing with me about her family’s experience in helping launch Skyla’s career, Sena said, “The fact that she has been successful has made it all worth it.”
Heather Skolnick has been a New Castle resident for seven years with her husband and three young children. After having failed miserably as a ballerina by age six, she now works for a retailer helping to define their Omnichannel strategy and process.