Santa Clarita teenager Leia Zorba has been dancing she was 2, and only a short 14 years later, she’s already achieved professional status.
At age 16, Zorba is one of the youngest members of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Through participating in the conservatory’s pre-professional high school program, Zorba now lives part of the year in Pennsylvania doing what she’s dreamed of since she was 2 — dancing all the time.
Zorba was always really drawn to the classes, her mother Molly said.
“She wanted to give me something to do when I was little, but I think it became so much more than that and I’ve always loved the way being on stage feels and performing for people,” Leia Zorba said. “It’s just a really nice feeling where you could feel like you could be the only person on the stage and you feel very alone, yet you’re surrounded by all these people watching you.”
Zorba grew up in Acton with a dance studio she’d visit while on walks with her mom.
Molly and Leia spent their time together as her dad was stationed in Iraq, and Molly recalled that Leia would watch the kids in the dance studio just outside the window, mesmerized. Thus her mother decided to get her involved.
“(The dance instructors) were taken by how focused how intense and how much she wanted to learn,” Molly Zorba said. “It’s not that necessarily she had instant raw talent, it was just something that was so in her. So when she was little, whenever we had people come over, she’d set up chairs for them and have them sit down so she could sit down and pretend to do a performance for them. She wanted to perform.”
Now Zorba gets to perform as someone who auditioned and received a spot in the prestigious Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s pre-professional full-time high school position.
Zorba had already participated in the organization’s summer intensive program for years, but was only there during those few months.
Then she auditioned during winter 2018 for the year-round program after the ballet had offered her a position where she could have the lifestyle of a professional dancer.
Now Zorba dances with 31 high schools students from all over the world, taking dance classes and rehearsals with the professional company’s ballerinas in turn.
Classes include partnering, modern, Pilates, point and technique. They are ongoing in the mornings and evenings, and schoolwork is done on different virtual schooling systems, Molly Zorba said.
Leia Zorba gets to dance from Monday until Saturday, and it’s all because her ballet schedule had become so intense that the only route was up.
She is now a senior at California Virtual Academy after having skipped a grade, but is on track to graduate high school on time and go to college.
Leia Zorba started her program in September and has split her time between the east and west coasts, even having time to perform 26 shows of “The Nutcracker” in Pittsburgh. The program will end in May, and she will fly back to California just in time to graduate in June and walk in an actual graduation ceremony in San Bernardino.
Zorba is interested in doing dance as part of a double major. Regardless, she doesn’t want to lose the magical feeling that the dance journey of training and auditioning has brought her — ballet being the highlight of it all.
“It was just always dance in general,” she said. “I just wanted to be moving and performing. But it hit that I really liked ballet the best, and it was a different caliber than the rest of the styles. I felt happiest doing this style.”