Though most children prefer playful, kid’s music, as a child, Gianna Juliet loved classical music.
“That’s what I always wanted to dance to,” she said. “I would try to go on my toes like a ballerina would — I didn’t even know how to do that, but I was trying.”
The now 18-year-old’s mother quickly realized she should be in dance, so at 5, Juliet began taking ballet classes at Santa Clarita Ballet Academy.
She has been dancing since, and over the past 13 years, has been working hard to take ballet seriously, which has finally begun to pay off as she will be traveling to Toronto, Canada, in August for the Genée International Ballet Competition, an annual classical ballet competition organized by the Royal Academy of Dance, or RAD.
“This is equivalent to the Academy Awards in entertainment and the Olympics in athletics,” Juliet added.
Each year, RAD holds exams where certified examiners grade dancers on technique, musicality and performance at each level. They begin when dancers are young, and get increasingly difficult each year.
Only dancers who receive a “distinction” on their RAD “Advanced 2” exams, or in other words, the highest possible mark in the highest level, are chosen to compete.
“This is a very established and prestigious international competition that has been around for years,” said Corinne Glover, owner of the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy. “You’re talking the top of the heap. It’s a lovely experience.”
The road to the Genée wasn’t easy though, and Juliet spend years preparing herself to compete as such a prestigious level.
“Gianna has trained with us from the time she was a little girl,” Glover added. “She’s a very ambitious young lady who wants to make a career out of dance, and she definitely has the talent and drive to accomplish it.”
Though she has been dancing since the age of 5, it wasn’t until she got a little bit older that she really began putting in all her efforts.
“It was my first “Nutcracker” that I was doing with Santa Clarita Ballet (Academy),” she said. “I remember when I went on stage, just being in front of the audience, it clicked for me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. From then on, I started working harder and harder and taking it more seriously.”
She was about 11 at the time, and she slowly began making ballet more a part of her everyday life, taking the maximum amount of classes along with a few extras over the weekend.
“If we didn’t have a class that day, I would choreograph ballet pieces at home or I would stretch,” Juliet said. “I was totally enveloped in trying to be the best that I could be.”
Her goal at that point was simply to get recognized as a good dancer by the academy, which is exactly what she did.
“My first memory of her when she was a little girl in the party during Nutcracker,” said Carol Guidry, director of the ballet company. “She has stood out since she was a little girl as not just being talented … but she has always possessed a really great presence, your eyes just always went to her immediately. We saw a lot of promise in her. And after a couple of years, (we) decided that she even needed a little more challenge and was clearly ready to move to the next level.”
Even with the move up, Juliet managed to get a distinction in her intermediate exam and continued to remain at that level in every subsequent exam she took.
“I took my Advanced 1 a year early (at 14), and when I took my Advanced 2, I was also one of the youngest in my class (at 16),” Juliet said.
“It gets tougher when you’re a teenager, and the kids that do stick it out are all super motivated,” Guidry added. “She always showed a lot of talent and promise, and we’ve been trying to nurture that talent to see how far she goes.”
Every year, the academy does a “Nutcracker” performance, and since her role in the party scene, she has grown to play various other leading roles, including that of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
All of which have helped to develop her as a dancer, but her favorite by far was the Sugar Plum Fairy as “it’s the epitome of what a ballet dancer wants to be,” she said.
“You have to embrace that role of being a graceful, beautiful, elegant, royal ballerina,” she added. “And technically it’s very demanding, more demanding than any other part.”
In the story, Clara goes to the land of sweets that the Sugar Plum Fairy and her helpers have created.
“There’s something so magical about being the person that creates that role,” Juliet said. “Welcoming (Clara) to this world and welcoming the audience is such a cool role to play.”
Juliet is excited to head to the Genée as a lot of professional dancers have emerged from there.
“Obviously, it’s nerve-wracking because this is the biggest opportunity I’ve had, and it can literally change your career and launch it,” Juliet said. “It’s a stepping stone into having a bigger professional dance career.”
Though she would like to win, just qualifying for and being able to attend the competition is an honor to her.
“I worked so hard for so many years to get distinction on my Advanced 2,” she added. “It makes me so proud of myself that I got this far. It’s recognized worldwide as something I’ve accomplished just to go.”
Juliet’s ultimate goal is to dance in a professional ballet company.
“She’s an incredibly hard worker, really diligent and has the obsessive compulsiveness that it takes to be a ballet dancer,” Guidry added, chuckling. “She has the drive and attention to detail, so I have a lot of hopes for her. I can see she has the determination to make it and is on track.”
As for why dancing is so important to her, Juliet said it simply comes naturally to her.
“It wasn’t something that even I had to learn to do, it was just inside of me,” she said. “When I don’t dance, it feels like there’s something missing, and I look forward to dancing every day.”
Even though she wants to make a career out of this, she doesn’t think of it as work, and instead believes it’s an art form.
“One of my favorite things is to be on stage,” she added. “Being able to provide that for an audience, there’s nothing that compares to when you can feel the energy from an audience; that they are watching you, engaging with you and can feel what you’re feeling.”