Anyone who thinks of ballerinas as dainty waifs has never met Annie and Hope Garcia.These young women are tall, strong and athletic to the core, spending several hours every week practicing ballet.
They study and perform in the American ballet style, described as “intensively aerobic and athletic.” It requires a combination of skill, attention to the minute details, athleticism and the ability to push through pain, all with a smile.
“I’ve heard some people say that ballet looks easy,” said Hope. “It looks easy because we make it look that way. You have to smile no matter how it feels.”
Adds Annie, “The aching muscles, blisters and sore feet are rewarding to me, because I’m putting my all into something I love.”
Hope, 17, and Annie, 15, are students at Camas High School. Hope is a senior and Annie, a sophomore. Both have lived in Camas for 15 years. At least three days a week after school, both girls board a bus and travel more than an hour to Portland, where they rehearse and perform with The Portland Ballet.
Both girls have been studying there since their freshman year. They love the opportunity, but it also comes with challenges.
“I’ll get done with ballet class and then dress up in war paint, with my red and black clothes, and people would just stare,” Hope joked. “I told them, ‘I’m going to see a Papermaker football game.’ These are both a part of who I am. I think it’s cool, like living two existences. But sometimes merging them together is difficult. I struggle to have a normal high school experience.”
Annie, who plans to dance professionally, sometimes finds focusing in her high school classes difficult.
“I’ve always wanted a career in dance, and I keep thinking I could be taking another ballet class,” she said. “It’s hard to focus my efforts.”
For Hope, the most rewarding aspect of ballet is the performances.
“Class is fun, and it feels great when you do things well,” she said. “But for me, the performance is the zenith of it all. It’s neat giving something to somebody. It’s a wordless feeling. You are giving something without reserve to people you do not know.”
Annie enjoys learning complicated steps and making breakthroughs in class.
“Being able to do the steps better, jump higher and complete more turns is very rewarding,” she said.
Dancing has been a passion for Hope and Annie since they were toddlers at Circle of Friends Preschool in Vancouver.“I used to love doing impromptu shows for my mom when I was little,” Hope said. “I would start doing the Sugarplum Fairy dance and make Annie be the Prince. I’d change into different costumes. I never wanted to stop.”
Annie, who is known as the more bold, daring sister, said her earliest ballet memory is of throwing a temper tantrum at a performance.
“There’s a picture of me, facing the wall, with this pouty expression on my face,” she recalled with a smile.
The girls practiced and performed at Evergreen Dance Academy in Vancouver during their elementary and middle school years, and then began participating in what is known as a “summer intensive,” at different ballet studios.
“If you want to go pro, you need to do summer sessions,” Hope said.
After participating in two summer intensives at The Portland Ballet, Hope knew she was where she needed to be. Annie followed suit a few years later.
“It was a really big family decision,” said Lyn, their mom. “We needed to consider it carefully, because it impacted everyone in the family.”
She added that the girls have had to manage their time very carefully.
“The commute adds about two hours to their day, and makes them have to work hard as students to manage it.”
“It’s a long day,” Hope said. “I do my homework during class if I finish an assignment early, and am very strict with how I use my time in the evening when I get home.”
The girls attend classes anywhere from three to six days a week, depending on whether they are rehearsing for a production.
After years of ballet, both girls have decided to remain involved with it beyond high school, but have very different ideas of what they want to do. Annie wants to dance professionally, while Hope has decided to major in pre-med and minor in dance. She would like to eventually become a podiatrist or physical therapist for a major ballet company.
“I have great respect for people who dance professionally, but I’ve sustained a lot of injuries the past four years, and I want something stable for myself,” she said.
Among the more severe injuries have been Achilles tendonitis, ankle sprains and a strained hamstring, where Hope was still required to do a full split during a performance, lest an understudy get her part.
“You get really possessive of it sometimes,” she said. “It was hard, but I went to physical therapy and just did it.”
Annie, who struggles with patellar tendonitis, is undeterred.
‘I want a professional career in dance,” she said. “I’ve always wanted that.”
During their time with The Portland Ballet, Annie and Hope have performed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” twice, as well as spring shows and master’s workshops. Hope has also performed in “La Boutique,” twice.
Lyn is glad the girls have had the opportunity to explore ballet, from summer intensives on the East Coast and Spain to dancing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“It’s very emotional for me and my husband, Alan, watching them dance,” she said. “Because we live with them, we know the enormity of effort and incredible perseverance they have to have. It’s really quite amazing.”