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Star talent, bright future

Some dancers are so poised and graceful at an early age that their talent seems much older.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY, Times Staff Writer
Published July 29, 2007

After Ella's lead role in The Nutcracker with the Miami City Ballet at Ruth Eckerd Hall in 2005, the professional dancers presented her with a pair of signed ballet shoes that she keeps framed in her bedroom with her first pair of pointe shoes on top.
[Ted McLaren | Times]
[Ted McLaren | Times]
Ella whispers to fellow ballet student Sarah Raines, 11, during practice at STEPS School of Dance in the Seminole location this month.


On the worn dance floor at STEPS School of Dance, Ella Titus takes rapid-fire direction from her ballet instructor.

"Fondu passe, fondu devant, plie eleve, stay, lift," she orders.

Ella's blond hair is in a perfect bun. She wears pink tights and a red leotard. Her lips don't open to complain or sigh or even to take in a deep breath. They are stretched in a forever half-smile even when she's teetering on one toe. Her huge blue-green eyes are calm. She blinks. She looks happy. She is confident.

She holds on to a bar and performs the combination, dipping and rising with enough grace and poise to make a grown woman feel sheepish and just a little jealous. Watching Ella dance is a realization that grace doesn't necessarily come with age.

The other students are four and five years older than her, but the only evidence of Ella's youth is her tiny frame and Ginger, the Webkinz toy dog peeping out of her shoulder bag.

Ella's not perfect. Her teacher corrects her and Ella says she thinks about those corrections when she's dancing.

But she's pretty impressive for a 10 year old.

So impressive, her talent and potential have been recognized by a world-known ballet company.

On Saturday, Ella and her parents, both teachers, left their Largo home for two weeks in New York City as Ella attends American Ballet Theatre's summer workshop for kids ages 9 to 11.

Going to the Big Apple

"When it comes to dancing, you don't see age," said Maureen Gibson, the owner of STEPS who has taught Ella since she was 3 years old.

For its summer program, the New York company received 500 applications and accepted 200 students from all over the world, including five from Florida. Only 15 of those students received merit-based scholarships. Ella was one of them.

She was awarded a half scholarship to cover the $1,150 tuition.

"I'm really excited because we have a whole bunch of leotards ready," Ella said.

She said she wants to see the Statue of Liberty.

Another area dancer, 12-year-old Sasha Alvarez of Tampa was accepted to the program. Sasha, an incoming seventh-grader at Villa Madonna Catholic School in Tampa, takes classes at the Elsa Pardo Dance Center.

Dancing is fun for her

Ella dances about 10 hours a week during the school year. She has a bar, mirror and flooring in her room. She's an only child with a bunch of pets and straight A's at Belcher Elementary where she'll be in the fifth grade.

"I never think it's too much at all," Ella says of dancing. "I think it's fun to do."

She's confident, but not in a look-at-me kind of way, said her mother, Amy Titus. She said Ella's teachers send home report cards with notes saying Ella needs to talk more.

But you wouldn't know Ella is quiet when watching her dance in front of thousands of people on Ruth Eckerd Hall's stage, Amy Titus said. She's done it twice as the lead in a version of the Nutcracker put on by the Miami City Ballet.

"When she gets on stage, she just kind of takes on something else," Amy Titus said.

Does Ella think she's a good dancer?

"Yeah, sometimes I do," she said.

Then she adds that she's better at some things than others.

[Last modified July 28, 2007, 22:20:56]

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