For Professional Teen Ballet Dancers, a Pandemic Is the Latest Stress in a High-Pressure Career Full of Them
For the first three months of lockdown, Joshua Jack Price practiced ballet in his childhood home on a little piece of vinyl flooring that rested on his tiled floor.
As ballet classes slowly resume at the San Francisco Ballet with only five people allowed in the dance room, Joshua Jack Price continues honing his technique from afar.
“I couldn't be there to share what would've been studios filled with determination and resilience,” the dancer wrote on Instagram Stories of himself taking the barre class remotely. “My return to San Francisco is a delicate balance of following my dream and staying healthy. When the time is right, I can't wait to see all my inspiring coworkers again.”
To see an inside look into Joshua Jack Price and Zoe Lucich's lives, watch the video above.
Price, who’s a first-year company member of the San Francisco Ballet, has been sheltering in place in his hometown of Queensland, Australia. He also celebrated his 20th birthday in quarantine. As restrictions slowly loosen, he’s been spending some time at the beach and at his childhood dance studio. He takes class in one room over Zoom, while his teacher is in the other room.
Ballet in a Pandemic
For the first three months of lockdown, Price practiced ballet in his childhood home on a little piece of vinyl flooring that rested on his tiled floor. He spends two to three hours a day on his craft. But forget about keeping up with those grande jettes, turns and leaps.
“I can't really jump because it's a bit dangerous,” he explained to Inside Edition Digital.
Practice for 18-year-old ballerina Zoe Lucich had been going similarly. “I can't work on my jump ... But I can work on other things, like my turnout,” she said. “It's a time to reflect on different things.”
Lucich is fortunate to have a wooden stage outside her home in San Anselmo, California to practice on in the warmer months. She’s often taking technique barre classes and practicing a routine from “The Sleeping Beauty.”
“It’s a really hard solo,” the recent San Francisco Ballet School graduate said. “It takes a lot of control, which I really need to practice. Forgive me, I'm out of shape right now, because of the conditions and the pandemic, but I'm trying my best.”
Lucich now enters the San Francisco Ballet’s trainee program, which falls in between the ballet school and the company. Trainees are treated like professional dancers and are taught how to prepare for a career in a ballet company with 75 to 80 other dancers. In the company, the work day starts at 10 a.m, and ends at 6 or 7 p.m. on non-performance days. When there’s a show, the day extends three to four hours.
Price and Lucich know each other well from being in the same building and stage together. Instead of going to college, Lucich planned to audition for ballet companies, including the San Francisco Ballet, but because of COVID-19, she was forced to stay home.
“I was definitely disappointed,” she said. “It's kind of like I'm taking a little bit of break.”
Instead, Lucich is spending her time fine-tuning her craft with her mom, Julia Adams, who was also a professional ballerina and now teaches classes. Lucich’s passion for ballet stems from the womb, she said.
“I was just born to do it,” she said. “This is what I've wanted for my whole life, to be a dancer. Nothing else really calls me.”
Lucich left public school in the middle of eighth grade to pursue her dream. “It got to a point where it was too hard,” Lucich said. “I felt like I was living two different lives. I'd go into the city without my parents [for dance training]. And then I'd go to this middle school where it's all this drama. I couldn't handle it. It was too much for me.”
She was briefly home-schooled, which was “terrible,” her mother recalled.
“So we found a public independent study program, not too far from the home,” explained Adams. As a student with the San Francisco Ballet School, housing for Lucich was free and was right next to the dance studio. “San Francisco Ballet was very gracious in giving us one morning [for academia], where she might have missed a floor barre or a conditioning class, not her technique class.”
The schedule, as a trainee, is vigorous.
Lucich says she had class Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. On Saturdays, classes would commence at 10 a.m. and run until 2 p.m. But then she’d work with the company which would “sometimes go until six or seven, or eight or nine. Depending on what ballet you're working on, or if it's theater week.”
While ballet runs in the family, it doesn’t come easy.
“I'm not the best at technique, I can't do the most turns,” she said, emphasizing the worst “most.” “But I think I'm an artist-- at least that's what people tell me. I think my strong point is my upper body, and the way I tell a story.”
Discovering Raw Talent
“Zoe's got that little thing that is very special. She's a very emotional dancer. And it's very important because it makes a difference. She's able to grab the attention of an audience,” said Patrick Armand, the director of the San Francisco Ballet School.
It was Armand who discovered the same raw talent in Price as well.
He brought Price from Australia to California as a trainee when he was 17. Armand knew he had to have Price move to the U.S. after watching him compete in the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, known as the “Olympics of ballet,” Price said.
“Josh straight away picked up everything, was very eager to understand, to have challenges and take risks. That's what I love about him. He's not afraid of anything,” said Armand.
For Price, this was the defining moment when he felt a career as a male ballet dancer was tangible.
After the trainee program, Price became an apprentice, entering into a one-year contract to be a part of the company. “But you’re still not in the corps de ballet,” Armand said. “You've got to prove that you can be part of the company. But most of the time, they give you the contract.”
Being Bullied for Ballet
Growing up with a passion for ballet wasn’t always easy for Price.
He started dancing in a small town in the far north coast of New South Wales when he was 8. A friend introduced him to the artform and he asked his parents if he could take lessons. Price first took up tap and jazz and then transitioned to ballet.
“[My parents] didn't really know a lot about ballet at the time,” he said. “Especially in Australia, it's not an extremely normal thing for a male to do. It was extremely tough for me growing up in a small town where if you didn't surf and you didn't play football, where do you fit?”
When he was 11, Price said he was bullied on the school playground and was sent to the principal’s office, where his classmate was disciplined.
"My teacher turned to me and said, ‘Well, why do you think that these people are questioning what you're doing?’” he said. “At 11 years old, I don't think that anyone is really thinking about their sexuality or how that plays into dance or why people connect those two things at all.”
The following year, he and his family moved to the Gold Coast, where Price started being homeschooled and attended a new dance school.
“They really helped me find a sense of community and show me that dance was going to be a possibility and I could be a professional dancer,” he said.
Challenges of Being a Professional Ballet Dancer
Being a professional dancer presents its challenges “in a sense that we don't feel the support from other people when we initially start. But once we find that community where we fit in, then something really magical happens and it almost feels like the bullying didn't even matter,” Josh said. “It's part of our jobs to be able to filter criticism. But I think that male ballet dancers have a unique responsibility as well to inform people that we are extremely important. We are a lot stronger than you think we are.”
Armand agreed, saying: “It's a very brutal and difficult art form. You've got to have not only the physical abilities, but the mental [aspect] too, to have a professional career as a ballet dancer.”
Price still finds himself surprised when those unfamiliar with the dancing world ask if he dances on his “tippy toes.” “It's incredible to me that people have absolutely no understanding of the athleticism that goes into our art form,” Josh said, noting he finds the stigma attached to male ballet dancers unsettling.
But Armand said he’s seen a drastic change in the makeup of some ballet companies in the years since he was a teenaged professional ballet dancer.
“It’s completely different,” he said. “When I used to dance, there were one or two boys in classes. In the San Francisco Ballet, last year, I had 15 girls and I had 18 boys because we've got only boys' classes. I think it's the perception of people have changed a little bit, the way they don't make fun of us as much.”
For Lucich, it's the body image expectation that presents challenges for her.
“You're staring in the mirror all day. You're looking at your body in tight-fitted clothes. I mean the stereotype's kind of crazy. So I've been trying really hard to maintain a good mentality towards my body,” she said. “It's really easy for me to be like, ‘Oh my God, am I putting on weight? Am I not in the right shape?’ I think my biggest obstacle is really to stop tearing myself down and enjoy the moment.”
Since she isn’t dancing as much as she would since she’s home in lockdown, Lucich started intermittent fasting.
“Usually when I'm normally dancing from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., I'm burning so many calories, I'm working super hard. And right now with the pandemic, it's a little different,” Lucich said. “It's hard to keep in the same shape. I'm not going to do this when I go back to dancing.”
Pointing Towards the Next Step
Price is waiting patiently to return to the U.S. to resume his role with the San Francisco Ballet. He was performing in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when theaters across the country shut down due in mid-March to the pandemic. Price started getting messages from the Australian Embassy that travelers should return home because it was unclear for how much longer flights would be available to do so.
Both dancers have been enjoying their time with family at home but admits it’s been hard to just sit and wait.
Price is grateful to attend class at his childhood studio but “every day I go in, I don't know what I'm doing there because I don't really know what I'm working towards.” He is optimistic that he will return to San Francisco in the near future
“I think I'm very fortunate for how it's affected me, compared to others. I think I'm very privileged,” Lucich said. “I just want to say it’s so devastating to see the world right now and how many people are suffering."
Still, she, like so many others, is counting down the moments until she can resume what makes her happiest.
“I can’t wait to be onstage again where I can bring beauty and light into people’s lives."
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