Dancing through junior year

Pre-professional ballerina classically trained


Gabriella Vulakh

EN POINTE Junior Ari Levine practices her warm up combinations during a class with the Pre-Professional level of City Ballet. Levine has been dancing since she was three years old.

Gabriella Vulakh, Web Editor

With her hand on the barre, standing in first position, junior Ari Levine begins most ballet classes at San Francisco City Ballet with foot exercises, side and back Port de bras, slow tendus, and grand battema combinations to warm up her body.

Sequences, which increase with difficulty as the class progresses, strengthen the body and increase stamina in preparation for weeks when Levine can be on her toes for up to 25 hours rehearsing for a performance.

“Ballet takes a lot of mental and physical effort and work,” Levine said. “There are days when my feet hurt and I am exhausted, but I do ballet because I love it. I come out of a three-hour class feeling rejuvenated —and that is really rewarding.”

Levine, who began dancing when she was 3 years old with Star Dance Studio, joined City Ballet when she was 7 years old. Levine completed the City Ballet’s school — Levels One through Six — and joined the Pre-Professional level this year.

“She was always moving around and dancing at home, so we thought ballet would be a good thing for her to do just to establish a good basis of dance,” Levine’s mother Nancy Levine said. “We exposed Ari to a bunch of things, but ballet just happened to be the one she liked the most.”

During her 10 years at City Ballet, Levine has trained under professional ballerinas. Her primary instructor, Galina Alexandrova who is the Artistic Director of City Ballet, joined the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia when she was 10 years old and performed with both the Bolshoi Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

“I want the the girls to come to class and to work, make progress and meet the goal we want to achieve,” Alexandrova said. “The goal is to go professional, but where they take these skills is their personal decision.”

Alexandrova trains ballerinas in the Vaganova method, a classical ballet style which is the basis of Russian ballet training. Levine also has specific instructors for folk dancing, partner and group dancing and contemporary ballet.

“Because they have such a strong base in classical ballet, they can dance any other type of ballet,” Ken Patsel, who is the Administrative Director of City Ballet, said. “They just have a real command of their bodies.”

The ballerinas showcase their hours of training in three main performances, the “Fall Showcase,” “The Nutcracker” and the “Spring Showcase” in addition to smaller in house performances throughout the year.

“It’s amazing how perfectly they are able to execute the dancing in performances,” Levine’s father Rich Levine said. “Ari is in a very rigorous dance program and that has made  her very focused, tenacious and diligent.”

Levine toured to Moscow, Russia with City Ballet last summer. The group took classes with instructors at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and watched performances at the Bolshoi Ballet.

“We take our students into the motherlode of ballet,” Patsel said. “Ballet is a huge part of the culture in Russia, so this trip gives students a greater appreciation for ballet and adds a whole different level of richness to their ballet education.”

Levine balances her extensive ballet training with one Advanced Placement course and two Honors courses in addition to her other classes. While she leaves school early everyday at 1:30 pm for ballet, Levine meets with her teachers during study periods and lunch to go over class material, and she receives notes from classmates.

“We know the time and effort Ari puts behind it all and we are very proud of her,” Nancy Levine said. “Convent has also done a really good job supporting the girls if they have that strong passion.”

While Levine has decided not to dance professionally, she still plans to finish her ballet training at City Ballet next year and continue dancing in college. This summer Levine plans to do an eight-week intensive in which she will dance for 7 ½ hours daily.

“Ballet has been a big part of my life, and I have sacrificed a lot of other experiences for it,” Levine said. “While I want to go to college and try something new, ballet will always have a big part of my heart.”