Young dancers spend countless hours in the studio developing their skills and artistry. While you will often find their peers hanging out at the mall or movie theater, these hard working young men and women will deny themselves the typical pleasures of teenage life for the promise of a shining dance career.
Madison Abeo, a level VIII student at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, is one such dancer who recently caught our eye. We were not only impressed with Madison's classic beauty and winning smile, but by her charisma, work ethic and dedication to both her family and her art. This young lady is the living, breathing definition of a "class act" - and we're thrilled to introduce her to all of you!
Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Madison Abeo...
Hello, Madison. Please share about yourself and how you got your start in ballet.
I was 3 years old and my family and I were living in Zambia, Africa. We had traveled there while I was young to do work in the villages. My parents put me in a local ballet class because I was clumsy and always tripping over my feet. We lived there for 2 years and when we moved back to the states I took classes at a small ballet studio in Monroe, where the teacher was a Cornish graduate. She encouraged me to audition for Cornish and then I danced there for 4 years before moving to PNBS.
When did you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a career in dance was right for you?
When I did my first Nutcracker performance at Cornish, and played the role of Clara – I knew I wanted to dance professionally. Its hard to explain how it made me feel, its something only a dancer understands. I dance because of the feeling I get when I dance, there really is no word to describe it.
Many locals are familiar with your father's "artistic" side. Can you share a little bit about your family with our readers?
My dad is local rapper RA Scion, who was in a group called Common Market. My mom manages his music and the business side of things. He has had music videos on MTV and done 5 or 6 CD’s. I am in a few of the videos. We have had an exciting life. I have been to huge concerts and danced on stage with him at Bumbershoot, Sasquatch Festival, and toured to several cities him on the road when I was younger. I have seen the fun side of music festivals, the VIP and green rooms, the backstage life is something that is the same in music as it is in dance.
How has their influence affected you? Are they supportive of your career or did they caution you against it?
I don’t feel like they have influenced me in the way of dance. Neither of them are dancers, but they did influence me with how I perform and work. Both are very hard workers. My dad taught me the value of not only hard work but how important the quality of a good performance and show is. How to be a humble and a grateful performer and how to work to do your best for the sake of the audience.
You've had the opportunity to meet and work with many local artists - both in music and dance. Can you share a little about that? What were some of your most favorite projects?
I have worked with a few bands and danced in their music videos. My favorite music video was for a local group called Alabaster. It was a fun atmosphere and they gave me a lot of artistic freedom. I was also asked to work with STG/Paramount for their annual DOORS fundraising event, where I was honored to have Olivier Wevers choreograph a piece for me to perform, and PNB was nice enough to loan me a costume. I was the only classically trained ballet dancer highlighted that night, and I got to meet some amazing people that donate to the arts.
What programs are you looking at for summer?
I auditioned for 4 schools, ABT New York, San Fran Ballet, Boston Ballet and Houston Ballet and I was grateful to get into all 4! I have recently made the decision to attend San Fran Ballet summer intensive, after discussing it with my parents, my teachers I decided it was best for my future.
Even with partial scholarships, summer intensives can be quite expensive! Unlike many students, I've heard you're actually working to help off-set some of the costs associated with your intensive. Tell us a little more about that.
Yes they are very expensive! I am always shocked at how parents can afford to send their kids every year to these programs that are $4-7,000 and then you have airfare, spending money, etc. My family has never been able to afford such things. I am grateful to my grandparents that have helped with the costs in the past. Now that I am old enough to help work to earn the money, I have been babysitting and saving every penny! I also have created a Facebook fan page, at the suggestion of my Aunt, and people who had no children for me to babysit, that wanted to donate and invest in my future. It means so much to me that so many people not only believe in me, but that they are helping me reach my dream.
Working, going to school and taking dance class...that's quite a load! Please share what a typical "day in the life" is like for you.
A typical day for me is – waking up around 6:45am to get ready for school. Packing a lunch and all of my school and dance gear. School until 1:30pm, and I attend the Center School, which is at the Seattle Center, so I just walk to PNB from there. I take about an hour to change, tape my feet and stretch. Then class, which is always on pointe at this level (Level VIII) is from Mon-Sat from 3:00 until 5:30. I stretch briefly after class, get home around 6pm, eat a quick dinner. Then if it’s a Friday, I babysit from 7 until Midnight or spend the rest of my night doing homework. Saturdays are usually the longest dance day, my level dances from 11:30am until 4pm and I arrive early at 9am to take the Pilates class that is provided to help with my core strength.
Many young dancers have strong mentors in their lives who encourage and inspire them. Who are your mentors and how important has their influence been to your success?
Some of the people I consider to be mentors are Olivier Wevers (Former PNB Principle dancer and director of Whim W’him dance Co.), Andrew Bartee, Sarah Pasch (PNB dancers), Rena Robinson-Steiner (Former PNB Teacher and dancer with Dance Theater of Harlem), and Colleen Dishy (former RAD and Cornish college teacher). In one way or another, all of these people have spent one on one time with me, giving me advice, encouragement and have been amazing examples for how to be the best dancer I can be.
You've also done some modeling for Vala Dancewear. Can you share how that partnership came about?
My mom likes to take photos for fun and some of the pictures caught the eye of an amazing dance mom (You! Lol) who gifted me a leotard and my mother took photos of me in it. Rebecca, the owner loved the photos and was so nice - gave me even more leos for my mom to take photos of me in! I love the leos because they are a great twist of classic styles, they are comfortable and SO much more reasonable than some of the other brands. The most recent photoshoot we did was with professionals, La Vie Photography / Bamberg Fine Art Photography – in which I wore Vala leos AND Class Act tutus. It was kind of a fashion ballet photo shoot, with some partnering photos that included my class dance partner Levi Teachout. We spent all day taking photos in different tutus and outfits, and we have already seen a couple of the shots and they are so beautiful! I am so excited to see how the rest turned out!
Okay...loaded question time! Who are your favorite dancers?
My favorite dancers are: Carla Korbes (PNB Principle dancer) – She is the perfect dancer. Not only does she have amazing feet, lines and expression – she is one of the nicest and most down to earth ballerina’s at the ballet. She is kind, humble and smiles at you when you say hi. When I watch her dance, she takes my breath away. Lucien Postelwaite (Ballet Monte Carlo) was the main reason I wanted to dance with PNB. He is a star. The perfect blend of grace and strength. As a younger dancer and before he left PNB, I often said I wanted to someday dance a piece with him! Andrew Bartee (PNB dancer) can do things with his body that I have never seen other people do. He is a true artist and isn’t afraid to be himself.
Is there anything from your past (dance or otherwise) that if you could - you'd change?
My parents have taught me that all of the challenges we face help make you who are now, so I don’t think I would change anything!
Developing as a dancer and artist takes dedicated, consistent effort and tons of "sweat". How do you stay so motivated?
Family, friends and my passion for dance is what keeps me going.
Do you have friends outside of dance? If so, do they support you in your efforts?
Yes I have friends outside of dance. My true friends understand my passion for dance, they often ask me about my progress and shows and they know how much it means to me to have them at performances, so they come to as many as they can.
What is your "dream" role?
My dream role is of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. I have always been mesmerized by the beautiful upper body movement of that role. The back and arms are amazing in that part. Also it is a huge test as a dancer to be able to play the pure and dark side of a character, really pushes you to the limits! I hope I get the chance to someday dance that role.
A dancer's career is often very short. What can you see yourself doing after the final curtain goes down?
I want to stay in the dance world, I would love to teach classes. I love kids and I think I would do well as a teacher.
What final piece of advice would you give to other young dancers out there?
Don’t make yourself try to fit into the “box” that some people and teachers think you need to be in order to be a good dancer. Its unrealistic. Instead, be the best dancer you can be by working on your strength and being healthy. Most of all, respect your teachers, they may not dance anymore, but they all were amazing when they did. They have learned tools that will only make things easier if you just listen. Lastly, dance is hard – on your body and on your spirit. Make sure you love it and that the love shows when you dance, or else its not worth all the pain and effort.
To see the rest of the photos from the shoot Madison did with La Vie Photography – and to visit Madison’s dance support page, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MadisonRaynAbeo . You can see Madison dance next in an excerpt from Balanchine’s Serenade – performed by the Level 8 dancers as part of the PNB School’s, End of Year performance on June 15th , 7pm at McCaw Hall. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.pnb.org.