Eight years ago, Ballet Tennessee nurtured a passion for dancing in an 11-year-old chosen for Dance Alive, the company's summer program for urban youth. Now 19, LaJeromeny Brown says he experienced "full-circle" emotion last week when he was back in Ballet Tennessee's studio — only this time as a new member of the prestigious New York City Ballet.
"It's a great experience to talk to these children, who could possibly be on the same pathway I was," the dancer says of teaching youth and adult classes at the studio. "It's really inspirational. They know my story and that I have come from a similar pathway."
Brown — or LJ as his friends call him — was a Woodmore Elementary School student when he auditioned for Dance Alive. Ballet Tennessee's instructors recognized his raw talent and gave him a Talent Identification Scholarship to train with Ballet Tennessee. Anna Van Cura, founder of Ballet Tennessee with her late husband, Barry, says Brown remained on full scholarship with them until he was 15 and auditioned for School of American Ballet in New York City.
By then a middle-school student at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, Brown went to Atlanta to audition with a couple hundred other aspiring dancers for a summer intensive with School of American Ballet. It was one of multiple stops SAB was making that year to find promising 13- to 16-year-old ballet prodigies. Brown was offered a full scholarship on the spot for the five-week program and during those five weeks earned another scholarship to join the program year-round.
Anna Van Cura said, at the time, that in 35 years of teaching dance, he was the only high-school ballet student she knew to have gotten a handpicked scholarship to School of American Ballet.
Once in New York City, Brown continued his upward trajectory. He spent three years in training at SAB. Last November, he got his apprenticeship into New York City Ballet, SAB's affiliate company.
"Six days later, I started dancing with the New York City Ballet company and rehearsing for 'The Nutcracker,' which started performances Nov. 25," Brown says. He danced in the Spanish hot chocolate sequence and as a mouse in 49 New York City Ballet performances of the holiday classic.
The Chattanoogan completed winter and spring seasons with the New York City Ballet, which included repertoire by all the choreographers with the company. At the end of the spring semester, he got his corps de ballet contract and officially became part of the New York City Ballet company. He is not the youngest dancer in the company: the majority are in their mid-20s and older.
Now he has the opportunity to learn from the NYCB artists whom he says he has long admired and who have influenced him: ballerinas Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns, dancers Taylor Stanley and Adrian Danchig-Waring.
About New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet is a company founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Balanchine and Jerome Robbins are considered founding choreographers of the company.
Among its many famous alumni is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who joined New York City Ballet in 1978 for a year to learn Balanchine’s style of movement.
Even though he's achieved his dream of making it to the New York City Ballet, his schedule is just as demanding as ever. It's up to him to keep his body in top shape, and he says he is working on "being stronger in every aspect, not just upper body, but being a strong dancer."
Having seen his progression from Dance Alive to professional, Van Cura says she has observed growth in "the articulation of his foot and leg in every movement, every step. The beautiful carriage of his upper body that he maintains throughout; even when he was teaching the class he maintained that carriage. The clarity of his work — it's like a bell ringing to watch, it's that clear."
Brown says he hopes to remain with New York City Ballet into his late 30s "if my body allows."
And after dance?
"Possibly a future in fashion, being a designer of men's and women's clothes. I do sketches now, and I've been experimenting with sewing. It's a new thing for me, but something I am starting to work on."
Just as dance was eight years ago.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.