On her toes Homegrown ballerina: Columbia's Alicia Graf getting rave reviews in the Big Apple.

October 06, 1997

COLUMBIA'S ALICIA GRAF has proved she can make it anywhere. The 18-year-old former Centennial High student is dazzling audiences and winning over tough New York critics this season with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Her parents and the dance instructors who guided each step of her development have reason to be proud.

Anna Kisselgoff, the influential New York Times dance critic, last month called Ms. Graf "a sensation" in the ballet, "The Prodigal Son." She wrote that "Ms. Graf is a born Siren. Once her toe work is stronger, it will enhance her already extraordinary performance. Predatory and sinuous, she yanked the hapless Son into her coiled embrace, ending with a masklike expression of triumph." Another writer described her as "the discovery of the season" for the renowned dance company.

As one might imagine, Ms. Graf's graceful dance toward stardom did not come without enormous sacrifice. Her parents, Arnold and Martha Graf, recalled in an interview with The Sun's Holly Selby last spring the countless miles of driving to and from dance classes, the hundreds of hours their daughter spent practicing and auditioning and the thousands of dollars spent on lessons, workshops, summer camps and gear. A month's worth of ballet slippers cost more than $200.

The parents and Ms. Graf's siblings made this sacrifice after it became obvious that the dancer had incredible talent, not to mention the long legs, short torso, elegant neck and hyper-flexibility that made her a coach's dream.

The parents found the right instructor in Donna Harrington Payne, owner of the Ballet Royale Academy in Ellicott City, who began coaching Ms. Graf at age 12.

Ms. Payne instantly knew that she had a potential ballerina on her hands. But she first made sure Ms. Graf and her parents knew success had another cost: a social life. Only the 12-year-old could have made that decision and, gladly, her parents let her make it.

"I have always, always wanted, since I was very, very little, to be a ballerina," she says.

That is the best thing about Ms. Graf's success in the Big Apple. Unlike some young successes in the sports and entertainment worlds, she's not living her parents' or her teacher's dream. She's following her star.

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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