Shelby teen joins intensive dance program in New York

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 21, 2013

 Gabriella Burke, 13, of Shelby Township, prepares to dance in Central Park in New York City. Burke completed a two-week dance program at the Joffrey Ballet School this summer.

Gabriella Burke, 13, of Shelby Township, prepares to dance in Central Park in New York City. Burke completed a two-week dance program at the Joffrey Ballet School this summer.

Photo provided by Virginia Burke

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Gabriella Burke, of Shelby Township, is 13 years old and has been dancing for 10 years. Dance is a large part of her life, and she got the opportunity this summer to better her craft in New York City.

She first heard about the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City from a dance instructor at her old dance studio, Bravo Dance Center. She auditioned in Detroit to get in and received an acceptance email placing her in a level and telling her which programs she qualified for.

The levels are named after dance instructors so the students don’t know which level is which, but Burke’s mother, Virginia, said the students figure out what the highest and lowest levels are once they begin the program.

Burke opted to do the intensive ballet program, which consisted of four classes a day — a ballet and point class, and then a modern, jazz, contemporary or ballet class — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. On the weekends, she got to go sightseeing and shopping.

“I only went for two weeks,” she said, “But you could’ve gone for longer.”

She attended the last two weeks of the seven-week program that began in June, from July 14 to July 27, after participating in a competition in Myrtle Beach.

Burke said she is no stranger to dancing long hours. The last dance year, she said she danced Monday through Friday and would often have extra rehearsals on the weekend. She also attended a gymnastics clinic on Saturdays.

The program offered classes with many different teachers with their own styles, which Burke said helped her gain a lot of new knowledge.

“I think I learned a lot, especially in the modern contemporary dance classes,” she said. “It was really nice meeting a bunch of new teachers, picking up their style and learning from them.”

She said one of the highlights of her experience was when a jazz instructor sat down with her students after a class and spoke to them about professional dancing and how to audition.

During her time at Joffrey Ballet School, Burke met people from all over the U.S. and even other countries. She said she met girls from Jamaica, Switzerland, Italy and Trinidad.

While her parents, Joe and Virginia Burke, came to New York with her, she did not see them during the program. She lived in a housing complex for dancers her age and roomed with five other girls and a chaperone: a 20-year-old college student.

“I was nervous at first, but my chaperone was fun and outgoing, and all my roommates were really nice, too, so we all got along,” she said.

Virginia Burke said it was nerve-racking to think that her daughter was in an apartment by herself, but she trusted the chaperone, and that she and her husband were able to communicate with their daughter through video messaging programs.

The experience, Gabriella Burke said, taught her a lot about living on her own. While her chaperone guided her and her roommates, she said she became proficient in doing her own laundry, making her own food and riding the subway.

“I definitely see she’s much more mature versus other girls her age because (dancing) is so time-consuming, and she has to work so hard,” Virginia Burke said. “I think it just brings her to a different maturity level.”

She will return to Malow Junior High School to begin eighth grade this year, where she said she likes English and math.

In the future, Gabriella Burke said she plans to pursue dance and would like to be on “So You Think You Can Dance” when she is 18 years old. But she said when she goes to Eisenhower High School, she would prefer to not join the dance team.

“I think that the dance team is really cool, but I think I would pass,” she said. “I feel I can improve a lot more just staying at the studio competing instead of going on the dance team.”

Virginia Burke said dancing makes her daughter happy, and that is all that she wants.