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Mass. sisters learn discipline of ballet

By Robin Kaminski
The Daily Item / April 2, 2011

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MARBLEHEAD, Mass.—Revered as an image of ethereal beauty and grace, ballet dancers project polish and poise as they effortlessly glide across the floor in a series of choreographed prances and leaps.

Many girls dream of pirouetting as a glamorous prima ballerina, to wear a frilly tutu and tiara and to fit into the dancer image.

Thirteen-year-old Nepheli Beos of Lynn is one of those girls.

Practicing her plies in front of a mirror, she intently studies her appearance, her posture and her moves as her instructor gazes on.

The Breed Middle School student began dancing six years ago at a Lynn studio at the request of her mother, Sunday, as a way to improve her posture. Last summer, she joined the Boston Ballet summer dance workshop at the Marblehead YMCA with her sister, Natalia, 11, and has since made a marked improvement in ballet.

"I started dancing here and I just got hooked," she said. "It gives me something to look up to."

Beos, clad in a pink leotard and white tights with her hair sharply pulled back into a bun, said dancing also gives her an outlet for the pain she has endured while being bullied at school.

"When I started ballet, I felt a lot better about myself and it allows me to pour my emotions into dance," she said. "When I get bullied, it just makes me want to dance even more."

Beos' mother, who gazed at her long-legged daughter in the naturally-lit, window-filled studio, praised the ballet school, saying it has given Nepheli the confidence to confront her bullies at school and has even empowered her to write an essay about her experiences.

"She has had a lot of bullying, they call her anorexic and they don't even know what that means yet," she said. "Ballet has become the highlight of her day, it boosts her confidence and morale and it's such a good experience for her."

Ballet dancing, however, is often mingled with the danger of injuries and other physical and mental health hazards. Vigorous training and practice are often obstacles dancers undertake to emerge as an effortless dancer who astounds audiences with beauty and talent. The psychological thriller, "Black Swan," invokes the images of a disturbed dancer who slowly loses her mind to the rigors of classical ballet.

Referencing the disturbed character played by Natalie Portman, Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, principal of the Boston Ballet School at the YMCA and former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, said she has witnessed dancers over the course of her accomplished career fall victim to the darker side of ballet.

"You work so hard and are so focused and weight becomes the only thing that you can control," she said. "I was in that world and I knew many dancers who suffered from anorexia and bulimia, but those who were the most successful were the ones who had a healthy balance."

Long days spent exuding high amounts of energy twisting and turning into numerous poses and steps takes strength and is something that cannot be accomplished on a poor diet. Although students at the studio are taught to lead a balanced life, Legate said she was alarmed to notice a number of girls getting dizzy during practice.

As a result, she and her husband, Stephen Legate, also a former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, quickly arranged for a nutrition seminar to teach the girls about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle as a dancer.

"If you want to dance, you have to put the gas in," she said. "We work so hard to tell the girls how beautiful they are. It's a really, really important part of the whole philosophy of the Boston Ballet to empower each child with self-confidence and good nutrition and the joy of dance to properly nurture them."

Beos said she has experienced her daughters proclaiming that they are fat, but has repeatedly instilled in them that is okay to be themselves and to be happy with who they are. Ballet, she said, has only reinforced those morals.

"They are striving for perfection and are disciplined, but not in a bad way," she said. "They are striving to be a better person."

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Information from: The Daily Item, http://www.itemlive.com/