'Beauty' takes a leg up for performance

By Kathy Jefcoats

It is an art form that has the ability to foster self-confidence, boost self-esteem and transform little girls into graceful young ladies – ballet.

They aren't old enough to drive yet but four Atlanta Festival Ballet students have more than 30 years collective experience in the art of the dance. The girls, Bianca Fabre, 14, Alice Mehaffey, 13, and Kaitlin Jones and Ariana Johnson, both 9, are hard at work preparing to rehearse for the school's spring production of "Beauty and the Beast."

"I am so excited," said Fabre. "We've never done this ballet before."

Unlike the popular Disney movie of the same name, the production is a dance interpretation of the story of a monster who falls in love with a beautiful woman. Her love in return breaks a spell, transforming him back into a handsome prince. The plot unfolds through a series of ballet routines rather than actors simply speaking lines or singing songs.

And so they dance. And dance. In addition to rehearsals, the four girls are on their feet more than two hours a day, four days a week. They are part of the intensive ballet program and guaranteed parts in the production.

However, open auditions for other parts will be held Sunday at the school located inside Eagles Landing Park on the parkway in Stockbridge. Auditions will be split according to age groups – 1 p.m.-2 p.m. for 3-6-year-olds; 2 p.m.-3 p.m. for 7-10and 3 p.m.-4 p.m. for 11 and up.

Anyone selected for parts will have to pay a fee, said instructor Giselle DiBlasi. Once cast, performers should expect to rehearse once a week to learn the steps.

As excited as the students are about performing, they acknowledge that ballet is more than just dancing.

"This is a way for me to express myself without talking," Fabre said. "I also have new social skills from having to talk to so many different people."

Her classmates feel ballet is a calling.

"I have such a passion for it," said Mehaffey. "It is part of my life that I think God has put me on earth to do. It is something I can give the world on my own. I do it to make people smile."

Jones agreed.

"I feel like I was meant to do this," she said. "I feel comfortable on stage and enjoy having the audience watch me perform."

Johnson said she wants to excel.

"Ballet is fun and I want to become better at it," said Johnson.

The girls got involved in ballet for different reasons.

"I wanted to go to kindergarten so bad but I was too young so my mom got me into ballet class," Mehaffey said.

Jones and Johnson started classes because their mothers thought it was a good idea to have an activity.

"I wanted to do it and she thought it would be good for me," said Johnson.

DiBlasi said the girls benefit from their surroundings.

"I think they have a real advantage because they are around people who make a living at it, the professional dancers we have here," she said.

All four girls have aspirations related to being in the spotlight. Fabre said she'd like to be an actress and model and the younger girls want to pursue a career in modeling and dance.

"This is my only passion," said Mehaffey. "I want to get very good at this and spend the rest of my life doing this."

Fabre has advice for other girls interested in joining a ballet class.

"You have to invest a lot of money in it so stay with it," she said. "It is a lot of hard work and you can't slack off. If you work hard, it will pay off. And it keeps you in shape. You meet a lot of new people and that forces you to be confident."

DiBlasi likens ballet to sports involvement.

"It is like being on a sports team because you have to trust the people you work with," she said. "And you have to get along with them."