Dancer Shaeleigh O’Brien, Third Grader at Freedom Academy North

Shaeleigh O’Brien is sure to fall into the same footsteps as her mom! She has been dancing her whole life and just got casted in The Nutcracker at Ballet Arizona….Congrats Shaeleigh, keep up the great work!

Tell us your involvement in The Nutcracker with Ballet Arizona. 

I auditioned and was selected to be in one of three casts for the role of Party Girls which is Act I. It was great fun! My mom’s good friend, Astrit Zejnati, is principal dancer with the company and he was so nice to me. My cast got to perform the most; I liked my cast lots and the girl as Clara, Mia Aker, was so nice. I like working with Mr. Joseph and Ms. Lisbet – they taught us all the steps/routines that I was in. We danced with the company dancers, too. My dance scene “moms and dad” (I had one dad but two rotating moms) were Carolina/Raychel and Brian, though I danced and was picked up and spun by James. I was also asked to be a BonBon which is in Act II with the Mother Ginger character. I loved all the costumes and hair! My mom was able to be backstage and in the wings each performance and I thought that was really cool knowing she was there watching me.

Do you ever get stage freight? How does one overcome stage freight?

I don’t get scared. I get nervous, which I think is different. The first performance for The Nutcracker, I was really nervous but once on stage and dancing, you forget that and just dance. With my mom’s company, AZDance Group, I get nervous too, right before going on stage, but it’s part of what makes you a performer – the excitement. So I don’t get scared at all. I was told “Whenever you stop being nervous, it is time to stop performing.” I think perhaps it is because that excitement is a part of what makes us more alive or believable; it is how we “reach” the audience.

How long have you been practicing ballet?

Well, I was on stage since I was 2-months old and AZDance’s “Baby Jesus”. Primarily, I started learning ballet positions, clean technique and posture, basic gymnastics and general movement from my mom from a very early age. I guess when I was around 5 I took my first ballet class.

Do you dance other genres as well?

Yes, I do jazz, modern dance and contemporary too. When I was at a few other studios I took acro, turns/leaps, hip-hop and tap – I liked them all.

What is your favorite type of dance?

Fast jazz, contemporary dance and ballet.

Tell our readers what you do at AZDances’ outreach programs?

Well, I’ve been a Children’s Company member since I was born  (tee hee) – and each season I get to do more and more parts. Since I was an infant, too, I have been in the classroom with the Movement E-Motion (MEM) dancers and then began dancing with them. I love it  … I help them and dance with them and even partner some of them. Sometimes I get to show them stretches or work on steps and technique. I have met a lot of friends and now MEM has new friends too as the group has grown, including other people. We perform all the time and I love that!

Do you want to be a dancer when you grow up?

Well I do – but I also told my mom I want to ride and train horses. I ride at my Gramma’s ranch and have been doing that since I was very very young – Vaulting and Dressage – and since she passed away, my mom has continued with my equestrian training with flat work and some low fence work. I’m also riding with a Hunter trainer, Megan (and Kelly) Carter in Cave Creek, and have been in two shows. I got lots of ribbons :). My mom’s good friend, Noelle, she owns Tack Et Cetera in Cave Creek, gave me a horse too, a pure-Polish Arabian mare, named Omie, and I’ll be showing her. She’s wonderful and I’m riding her lots as well as my mom’s other horses on the ranch. So like my Gramma who was a concert pianist in Chicago and then played for master dance classes here in Arizona and was a dressage and horse trainer and Vaulting coach, I want to do things in the arts and train horses. I draw and play piano too. My mom does that too so I can too! I will be auditioning, I think for some summer dance intensive coming up. It’s hard as there aren’t that many for 9 years olds, but I’m hoping to at least audition for ABT’s Young Dancer Workshop, perhaps Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York and maybe SAB or The Rock.

What is the hardest thing that you have had to learn with ballet?

Well, I don’t know! Maybe doing more than one pirouette correctly? There are so many things to think about – your arms, standing leg, where the other leg should be, your back, spotting – That and all the repetition that you have to do at the barre and center in order for everything to be correct and ‘fall into place’. I’m getting it! And the added work like your posture,  tummy exercises, and doing movements that are graceful but being strong. My mom is a great teacher and works me hard; I’ve been lucky to have her the most with a few other teachers for a short period of time. If I had  favorites they would have to include Mr. Hodgie Joe now at Alice Cooper’s Rock Teen Center, or Ms. Jaclyn Levine who was at Scottsdale School of Ballet or Ms. Irena Wozniak at Masters Ballet Academy, but mainly it’s my mom. She has trained dancers at Boston Ballet and throughout the world so I’m lucky! Dance is tiring but great fun and I have some really good friends, too. (Photo Credits: Erik Hyler)

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