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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Jordan Miller, 18, practices at New American Youth Ballet. Miller will join the New York City Ballet as an apprentice for the 2013-14 season.

Local dancer heads to the big stage for NYC ballet

Training leads to lifetime opportunity

As a young girl, Jordan Miller wasn’t convinced ballet was the right style of dance for her.

“I’ve been dancing since I was 2, but it took me a long time to realize ballet would be my future,” she said. “I never disliked it, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite.”

But her parents, Heather and Michael Miller, had a good idea she might be headed down that path, she explained.

“My mom bought me a black tutu at Target when I was really young and I just wouldn’t take that thing off,” said Miller, 18, smiling at the thought.

But finally, it clicked, she added.

From then on, her life was a blur of dance lessons, recitals and plenty of practice, practice, practice.

But all her long days and busy nights will soon pay off as Miller dances her way across the stage at the country’s largest dance organization, the New York City Ballet.

In June, after spending two years in New York studying at the School of American Ballet, Miller was invited to join the New York City Ballet as an apprentice for the 2013-14 ballet season.

“Today, I’m excited,” Miller said Thursday as she visited with her younger sister, Maddie, in Fort Wayne. “But it sort of goes back and forth between really excited and really nervous.”

Dreams of dance

Miller, who grew up in Auburn, began taking tap, jazz and ballet classes as a toddler.

When Miller turned 12, her parents decided to enroll her in Fort Wayne’s New American Youth Ballet where she trained with Beth McLeish.

“I always knew I wanted to dance, but I didn’t really know what,” she said. “I think the moment that I finally figured out it was going to be ballet was when we took a trip to Saratoga Springs in New York and I saw the (New York City) ballet live for the first time.”

Miller said she was “totally awe-struck” by the performance and made it her goal to someday dance with the New York City Ballet.

For the next two years, she trained in Fort Wayne, taking two or three classes a day and strengthening her skills as she perfected her movement and poise.

When she was 14, she was accepted into a five-week summer program for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

She returned to the program the following summer.

Two years and several pairs of ballerina shoes later, Miller was offered a scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet in New York, so she packed her bags and headed to the big city.

Miller said leaving her family behind in Indiana was difficult, but she was excited to chase her dream.

“I’ve always been independent, but once I got there I learned that I’d have to do everything by myself,” she said. “There was no one to do my laundry, no one to cook my dinner and make sure I did my homework.”

Miller finished her academic studies a year early through the Professional Children’s School in New York, splitting her time between her studies and ballet classes. She graduated in 2012.

And then came time to find a job.

“There was a time when I didn’t have a day off for about three months,” Miller said, describing how she spent months auditioning for various dance companies and hoping they would offer her a position.

Apprenticeship calls

In February, Miller heard from a company in Germany that it was interested in having her join.

“I was really excited at first, but then I realized I thought New York was far away – but this was Germany,” she said.

During a meeting with her instructors in New York, a teacher suggested she should hold off on making a decision because she was being considered for the New York City Ballet.

“That entire four months I was walking around on eggshells,” Miller said.

Finally, she received the news that she’d been selected as one of three students for an apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet and received the Mae L. Wein faculty award for distinguished service by the school’s artistic director and chairman of faculty, Peter Martins.

“When I found out, I was sort of like, ‘How did this happen?’ People had more faith in me than I did in myself,” she said.

Next week, she will return to New York for her first rehearsals with the ballet company to prepare for the first performance of the season, “Swan Lake.”

Miller said she expects the first few months to be quite an adjustment from her previous schedule and said it will take time before she’s caught up and dancing smoothly alongside the veteran ballerinas.

“I’m expecting the amount of dancing I do in a day to at least double. … For a while at least, I’ll be the new one tripping on people and slowing things down,” she said, laughing.