High school junior from Buffalo follows dance dream

Mar 3, 2014

A young Buffalo woman is working on a career and dream to become a professional dancer. After receiving training in Buffalo, she's now attending the Boston School of Ballet.  As part of our Focus on Education reporting, WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says the former Buffalo Seminary student is now training to become a ballerina. 

While most 17-year-olds are studying and taking SAT's and maybe thinking about this spring's junior prom, 17-year-old Isabella Kowalski of Buffalo is focusing on ballet classes and studies her high school lessons all while living on her own in a new city.  

Kowalski began her professional ballet training at Royal Academy of Ballet and Dance in Kenmore.   

"I was seven years old and I was nagging at mom to take me to ballet class," said Kowalski. "My mom was sick of hearing me complain about dance class so she brought me to Miss Beth's studio."

Elizabeth DiStasio-Waddell, Isabella Kowalski and Rosina Kowalski at Royal Academy of Ballet.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"She came about the summer of 2003," said Elizabeth DiStasio-Waddell, director of the Royal Academy of Ballet.  She is fondly known as Miss Beth to her students as Miss Beth.  DiStasio-Waddel noted Kowalski had a certain ballet spark.

"She was this spitfire of energy, had all of her splits and the kind of student that a teacher just grins from ear to ear, knowing this girl has a potential to be a professional," said DiStasio-Waddell.

DiStasio-Waddell works to encourage young dancers who have a desire to be a professional ballet dancer.

"Giving them the encouragement to follow their dreams, come to class every day, work the conditioning, the artistry, the technique all the time," said DiStasio-Waddell.

Isabella Kowalski of Buffalo (middle) from past performance of the Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet's Coppelia at Center for the Arts.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

The Royal Academy of Ballet is also home to the Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet.  Some of the Royal students are given a chance to dance professionally on stage in shows performed at UB's Center for the Arts -- such Coppelia -- that ballet will be staged later this month and will feature professional dancers from other markets.  

Kowalski was once part of those local performances. It was the local training and performing experiences that led her to an audition at the Boston School of Ballet.  After attending a summer program, she began her first semester last fall. Now she is learning how stressful it is to be in a top professional dance school. 

"You come from a little studio were you are probably the best one and then you are grouped in with the best of the best,' said Kowalski.  "Just the rise of competition increases. It gets much more intense, so everyday you are comparing yourself to these amazing girls."
"I didn't envision this career for her," said Rosina Kowalski, Isabella's mother. "I thought maybe she would be a physical therapist like myself.  I had dance tapes for children and she took those tapes and learned all those splits. So when I did bring her to Miss Beth and her studio, Miss Beth said she has all her splits. I realized this was her passion."

Emotionally it was difficult for the family to send their young their daughter to a big city on her own.  But the determined teen dancer has been able to live on her own  -- navigating training and her school work.

"Some girls decide to go to normal school.  I decided to do on-line school so I could take classes (ballet) in the morning as well,' said Kowalski.

WBFO asked Kowalski what is the hardest part of balancing both ballet and school work.

"The personal dedication to really get up and actually do my work everyday and stay on top of things, and go to class everyday with the mindset that I need to work as hard as I can. Essentially, if I don't work hard it doesn't hurt anyone else but myself," said Kowalski. 

While other families are planning to pay for college, the Kowalski's are paying tuition for the year-round dance program, living expenses and dance supplies. Kowalski, on average, burns through a pair of pointe shoes every three weeks at cost a little over $100 a pair.  But by attending the Boston Ballet School Kowalski is being exposed to the Boston Ballet. She already performed with them in a production of the Nutcracker late last year.  Performances that are a thrill for her mom and former ballet teacher to watch.

"It put together all my years of teaching and what I love to teach to the highest level. To see your student that you had from six years old on follow her dreams and dance with a professional company," said DiStasio-Waddell.

"Oh I love seeing her dance. I am so full of pride," said Rosina Kowalski.

There have been dancers from the Royal Academy of Ballet that are now dancing professionally with the Miami City Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theater.  Kowalski is hoping to continue to advance to what is the highest level of the school next year, as senior in high school, and then perhaps become a dancer in the Boston Ballet.