Ballet puts two teens toe to toe

Their parallel tracks intersect in shared title

August 12, 2002|By Colleen Freyvogel and Alexa James | Colleen Freyvogel and Alexa James,SUN STAFF

Although they didn't realize it, teen-agers Melissa Hough and Ashley Canterna have been pirouetting down similar paths since they were toddlers. They both grew up in the Baltimore area, practically took their first steps in ballet slippers and trained at Washington's prestigious Kirov Academy of Ballet.

This summer, those paths intersected briefly and unexpectedly at the Olympic-caliber International Ballet Competition held every four years in Jackson, Miss.

Melissa and Ashley, both 17, competed in the junior division of the elite IBC. This year's competition attracted 118 dancers from 25 countries. While they knew each other only casually going into the competition, the two teens' careers converged when a jury of 13 judges from 13 countries could not choose between the two, awarding them both the division's Jury Award of Merit and accompanying $500 scholarships.

The Jury Award recognizes a dancer who has great potential but may not yet be a medal contender, said Peter Merz, IBC artistic administrator. Usually there's a single winner, added IBC spokeswoman Katherine Stewart, "but the judges were simply unable to decide between the two."

Melissa and Ashley don't mind sharing the title.

"I really didn't think I was going to have a chance of getting any prize or medal," Melissa said over the phone from Ohio, where she's training with a Midwest dance company. "So when I made it to the third round, it was really surprising. Then to get this award. ..."

"It was the most exciting thing ever to just be there," said Ashley, who has spent much of her summer teaching young dancers at her home studio in Linthicum. "It was less nerve-racking than I thought, and to get an award - I was extremely excited."

During the competition, both danced variations of Ricardo Drigo's Le Corsaire, with choreography by Marius Petipa; as they did throughout the competition, Melissa danced solo, Ashley with her partner of three years, Danny Tidwell. Melissa also did a piece from the musical Chicago and danced to a Stevie Wonder song, "You Haven't Done Nothin'." Ashley's repertoire included a piece choreographed by her sister, Adrienne.

The young women may be the only ones surprised by their award. Melissa has performed in New York, Washington and Korea. Ashley was named Miss Dance of America 2002 by the group Dance Masters of America and won the silver medal (the highest award) at the Varna International Ballet Competition, held in Bulgaria two years ago.

Choreographing a successful ballet career demands a lifetime commitment. Ashley tiptoed into her first studio as a toddler. Adrienne already was taking classes there. "Since I was 1 1/2 to 2, I started trying to do everything she did," Ashley said, acknowledging that girls usually don't begin their lessons until age 4 or 5. "So they let me go in early if I could behave."

Extra encouragement

Like all good dance parents, John and Sarah Canterna have been supportive of their daughters' dancing. "Like with anything else, we get them where they need to be," Sarah Canterna said. "We just make sure they have what they need, and we don't push them ... but we encourage them."

Both Ashley and Melissa enjoyed accelerated careers. Aspiring ballerinas usually don't begin pointe until at least age 11 or 12, since young muscles often are not strong enough to withstand the painful training. But Melissa slipped into toe shoes at age 9, Ashley at 10.

Since then, the girls have mentally, physically and financially committed themselves to the art. Ballet is anything but cheap. Pointe shoes alone can cost $60 to $70 a pair. That's on the low end - and just one pair won't do.

"Oh my gosh, hundreds," said Ashley. "I go through so many. When you first start out, you don't go through as many, but now the longest they last is eight hours."

Melissa agrees that toe shoe prices can be daunting. "I keep the ribbons and elastics from all of my shoes," she said. "But the actual shoes usually end up in the trash."

Melissa and Ashley remain aware of each other, but they don't hang out, don't write or e-mail, and no longer share the same training facilities. Melissa, who graduated from the Kirov in May, has joined the BalletMet professional training program in Columbus, Ohio, where she is one of seven apprentices selected to train full-time with the resident company.

At the end of the program, she may join the BalletMet company or move on to another company.

A few choices

Those might be the Boston Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre in New York and the Washington Ballet - the same companies Ashley plans to audition for next spring, after she completes her senior year (she is home-schooled by her mother).

Today, the Canternas have an in-house studio where Ashley gives private lessons. She also teaches at the Edna Lee Dance Studio in Linthicum, where she trained for about five years. Her current coach is Rhodie Jorgenson of the Maryland Youth Ballet.

Having a home studio, she notes, has its advantages.

"I use it a lot now to teach my students. I am saving the money I make from teaching [to help pay] for competitions."

And maybe a few pairs of shoes.

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