Steamboat Springs dancer earns scholarship to attend Joffrey Ballet’s summer intensive program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The decision to spend her eighth-grade year homeschooling to focus on dance paid off, said 13-year-old Helena Maynard.
In January, Helena, who lives in Steamboat Springs, was the only dancer at the Denver auditions to be accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School’s summer program on a full scholarship.
A week later, she received an invitation to spend ninth grade in Joffrey’s year-round program — an offer only extended to 68 dancers from around the country.
“I’m very excited,” Helena said. “I worked really hard to get here. This can open a lot of doors for the future.”
Taking classes online and spending every day in the dance studio was challenging, she said, especially at first.
“But, I see how much I am growing as a dancer and as a person,” Helena said.
The family hasn’t decided yet whether Helena will spend the entire year in New York City, said mom Celina Taylor.
When she goes in July, Helena will have the opportunity to “get an overall sense of what it means to be a boarding student at a dance school in New York,” Taylor said. “We just want to help make the best decision for her.”
Having attended the Joffrey program when she was 11, Helena already knows she loves the Big Apple.
“It’s a dream place to live,” she said. “It’s always been first on my list of where I want to live and pursue my dreams. It’s where it’s at, in my book.”
Helena said she loves everything New York City has to offer — including classes in every kind of dance imaginable.
“I feel very honored to be accepted,” Helena said. “It’s a very big decision to make.”
Being a young performer far away from home isn’t a life foreign to Taylor or her husband, Jeremiah Jackson.
Both spent the early part of their careers as professional figure skaters, Taylor joining Disney on Ice when she was just 17. Jackson is also a dancer and began touring with Omaha Ballet from a young age.
The couple first met when they were just 14 years old at a national skating competition in 1994.
“We were literally in the arena when Nancy Kerrigan got clubbed,” Taylor added for historical context.
Re-connecting many years later through a mutual friend and Jackson’s former skating partner, Taylor and Jackson got married and started their life together in North Carolina. In 2014, the family moved to Steamboat, where Jackson had lived previously.
Two years ago, Taylor helped to launch the Steamboat Skating Club where she currently works as the director of figure skating and Jackson serves as technical director.
Partly inspired by the desire she saw among her skaters for more performing arts experience, the couple opened the Steamboat Arts Academy in August which offers dancing and singing lessons.
Since opening, they’ve taught more than 100 students, Taylor said.
Helena’s journey to become the intensely focused dancer she is today hasn’t always been an easy one. She stopped dancing a few times while finding the path that best suited her.
When they first moved to Steamboat, Helena tried figure skating. But, Taylor remembers watching her daughter skate to one end of the ice rink and dance, then to center ice and dance, then to the other end and dance.
“This kid really wants to dance,” Taylor told herself.
A few years later, after taking another break from dancing, Helena auditioned at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. She was overcome with emotion when she got off the stage, Taylor said. It was then Taylor saw how much dancing was a part of Helena and how much she had missed it.
“She dances from her heart when she dances,” Taylor said, recognizing the same heart she herself puts into figure skating. “She felt like herself again.”
Helena spent four weeks last summer at Perry-Mansfield, an experience she calls “pretty much life changing.”
“I loved it so much. It opened my eyes,” she said. “I learned so many things.”
Taylor said her daughter came away from Perry-Mansfield a changed person and dancer.
“She came out with new determination,” Taylor said.
So, she and Jackson decided if this was what Helena really wanted, they needed to find a way to support it.
Knowing what life is like in a world of highly competitive athletes and artists, Taylor watches her daughter with great pride but a little apprehension.
She wants her four kids to have big dreams, but she is happy with them being whoever they want to be.
“It’s a challenge for any parent,” she said. “To help foster the thing they love so much,” while also helping secure an identity that can outlast physically demanding careers.
But of course, kids change their minds, Taylor said.
“In a year, she could say she wants to be a scuba diver,” Taylor said.
Given Helena’s passion and focus, that appears unlikely.
“I love ballet because I like to be challenged, and I like to work hard,” Helena said. “And I get to show my emotions through dance — instead of talking.”
If she’s not dancing, Taylor said her daughter is watching videos of international ballet competitions, memorizing variations or reading ballerina autobiographies.
In the short term, Helena will spend the first part of the summer at the Rocky Mountain Ballet Academy and the second with the Joffrey program. Taylor and Jackson will take turns staying in New York City with her at a friend’s apartment.
“They’ve been extremely supportive,” Helena said, describing countless trips to Denver and arranging Skype lessons with an instructor from New York. “I’m so thankful for them supporting me in so many ways.”
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