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Balancing High School With Daily Ballet Class, Performance Rehearsal Keeps Jenna Smith On Her Toes

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Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 11:30 am | Updated: 11:41 am, Wed Mar 6, 2013.

Jenna Smith, Labadie, doesn’t much care for reading any of Shakespeare’s plays. It just doesn’t grab her attention.

But performing them on stage — as they were originally intended — is sublime.

“I love it!” Smith remarked.

Add dancing to the performance, and it’s the ultimate experience for her.

This weekend, Smith, a senior at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in Washington, will live that dream when she portrays Hermia in the Alexandra Ballet Company’s performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Guest artists from Kansas City Ballet also will be part of the performance, and something Smith has most enjoyed in preparing for this weekend’s shows.

“Just watching them, dancing with them, acting with them really helps our understanding,” said Smith, daughter of Cindy and Kenyon Smith, Labadie.

“Anthony (who Smith has been paired with in “Dream”) is one of the best dancers with the Kansas City Ballet Company, and I get to dance with him this year,” she commented. “I remember when I was a kid, looking up to him thinking, ‘Maybe one day I’ll get to dance with him.’ ”

Began Dancing at Age 4

Smith began dancing when she was just 4 or 5 years old and enrolled in classes at Dance Craze in Washington studying under Sherri Roberts. She learned tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and tumbling, but right away she knew ballet was her favorite.

When she was around 7 or 8, Smith began taking classes at the prestigious Alexandra School of Ballet in Chesterfield, which also has a company that dancers have to audition for every year. She auditioned at age 10 and was accepted.

The benefit to being in the company, Smith explained, is that dancers get more stage experience. The company puts on about six shows a year, including its annual performance of “The Nutcracker” at Logan Chiropractic College, a large show, which this year is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and a regional dance festival that features performances, as well as classes, said Smith.

Over the years, Smith has built up an impressive dance resume that includes dozens of performances.

She was a twin butterfly in “Papillon,” a monster in “Firebird,” a Scottish doll and ribbon dancer in “Coppelia,” and a star in “Cinderella” — her first performance on pointe.

For three years she performed with Dancing in the Streets St. Louis, and she has danced at private parties for the American Polish Society Debutant Ball.

Twice she has performed in “The Nutcracker” at The Fox Theater in St. Louis — once with the Moscow Ballet and again with the Joffrey Ballet. And she had a solo as the enchanted garden fairy in “Sleeping Beauty.”

Hip Hop Too

Smith is something of a rarity in the dance world, however, because in addition to ballet, she loves and has a talent for hip hop dancing as well. She has six years’ experience with the Hip Hop Foundation Fanatics, participated in yearly recitals, gone to numerous competitions and conventions, including PULSE and Monsters of Hip Hop, and performed in a variety of venues, like Live on the Levee at the St. Louis Arch for the Fourth of July, Friday Night Lights celebration party at Westport Plaza in St. Louis and after-party performances at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Tight Daily Schedule

Smith’s busy performance schedule means she also has a tight daily schedule because she has dance class and company rehearsal nearly every day — on top of being a high school student.

“I come home from school, have a snack and rest period for about an hour, then get ready for dance, drive an hour into St. Louis for dance class, which is an hour and a half (6:30-8 p.m.) then rehearsal for an hour (8-9 p.m.),” said Smith.

After an hour’s drive home, she arrives back in Labadie around 10 p.m. to eat dinner, get a shower and start her homework.

“I usually go to bed around 12:30 (a.m.) and get up about 7 (a.m.),” Smith said.

When she has more extensive homework, like a paper due or a test to study for, that complicates her schedule even more. She tries to plan ahead as much as possible, “to do it in pieces,” but often winds up cramming at the last minute.

“If I’m lucky I get to do things over the weekend,” she said. “I’ve pretty much given up a social life.”

What’s Next

As a senior in high school and a senior with the Alexandra Ballet Company, Smith is looking ahead to starting a professional career as a dancer. Already Smith has been accepted to the Kansas City Ballet’s Summer Intensive, a five-week program where she will dance five days a week.

She is also planning to audition for the Kansas City Ballet Company. But if that doesn’t work out, Smith will head out West to try out for The Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

“It’s a school, but you work on many different types of dance, . . . and they have agents who come in to watch,” Smith said, noting her goal is to work in both ballet and hip hop.

“As long as I can dance, be seen on stage, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

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