Freshman Ava Ackerman plays the part of her dreams in The Nutcracker

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Freshman Ava Ackerman had always aspired to be in the well-known ballet production, The Nutcracker

In fifth grade, Ava’s friend had the chance to perform in the ballet. Beforehand, her friend’s mom had reached out to Ava’s mom and informed her about the program. She had advised that the tickets were on sale and that they should come, and though Ava knew very little about dance, she and her mom went to The Nutcracker to support her friend. 

“I remember sitting in the back of the auditorium—the far back—and I was looking up at the stage and [watching] the dancers and all their expressions,” Ava said. 

While watching the performance and the many dancers included in the production, Ava was in awe. With Ava’s friend being in the spotlight and up on stage, she realized again that this was something she would like to do. 

You have to have a very strong mindset. It’s always about your mind, and dance is very competitive. There’s always going to be things that knock you down, and so with that strong mindset, you just have to work harder.”

— Ava Ackerman

Ava originally started dancing when she was three years old, this hobby being influenced by her mom. This was around the time she had been enrolled in a ballet and jazz class for younger kids. This class was for kids who wanted to learn more about dance and get involved, and within this class, young Ava learned the different styles of dance along with various techniques. 

Continuing to dance until age five, Ava decided to take a gap year and have a break from dance. In the middle of this gap, she tried other sports such as swimming, tennis, and soccer. She also tried cheerleading and gymnastics as well. Although they were new to her and were nothing like dance, Ava enjoyed them. 

And while she did feel motivated by these other activities, nothing could excite her as much as dance. This is the main reason why, at age eleven, she started to pursue dance once again. 

“At age 11, I took [dance] seriously, and that’s when I started dancing for real,” Ava said, “there’s nothing I would ever change about those [five] years.” 

Flash forward to the present, and Ava is still following her journey as a dancer. She now dances for the Michigan Ballet Academy and has two current coaches, Irina Vassileni and Chien-Ming Lin. Ava has now been at the academy for two years and absolutely adores her coaches. Vassileni and Lin work hard at what they do and turn many of their dancers into professionals.  On top of this, she also has a teacher, Amy Wilson, who teaches contemporary dance. Ava has had multiple teachers in the past, but these few are her main influences and inspirations. 

“They’re kind of like a dance family,” Ava said, “and really all your friends become family over [at the studio].” 

Along with coaching relationships, Ava has also grown close with friends while dancing. She’s met many friends over the course of the years she’s been dancing, but Ava’s closest friend that dances with her at her studio is Nyla Garvin, who shared the part of Clara in The Nutcracker with Ava. 

Ava has been in several productions and has been delighted to be a part of every single one. To name a few, she has been involved in Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

“I would say my experience with [each ballet] was amazing. I would never turn down anything,” Ava said. “The memories I’ve made [at the productions], and the people I’ve met, were just amazing.” 

One of Ava’s favorite ballets to not only experience but take part in was playing Clara—the lead role—in the 2019 Nutcracker ballet. She performed the role in December and had an incredible time during each performance. It was the role that Ava had always been hoping for—a lead role in a very well-known ballet. Although she was nervous, she performed her best, primarily due to the practice that it took and her determination and perseverance. 

Many hours are put into these higher-level performances. For all of Ava’s shows, she starts three to four months in advance before the actual performance takes place and practice one day a week—usually a Sunday. Ava and the other dancers practice for a whole day or, at the least, four to five hours. 

With all of the time and countless hours that dancing takes, Ava gets to travel to plenty of neat places. She has sojourned to Chicago for five weeks with Ballet Chicago. She has also gone to Florida to the ABT (American Ballet Theatre) for four weeks. In New York, Ava won a scholarship and is going back this summer for a three-week intensive training for Bolshoi Ballet. 

Another reason Ava travels is because of the world’s biggest ballet competition known as the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP). Ava spends a year practicing for the moment of performance at this competition. She practices both ballet and contemporary and has been there twice, one time in Chicago and once in Indianapolis. 

“I’ve traveled a lot of other places,” Ava said. “[YAGP is] a [dance] competition where you go and perform and get placed, and super [famous] people from around the world come and perform.”

Overall, dance takes a lot of muscle, time, and practice, but for Ava, the community, memories, and success make all that worth it. 

“You have to have a very strong mindset,” Ava said, “it’s always about your mind, and dance is very competitive. There’s always going to be things that knock you down, and so with that strong mindset, you just have to work harder.”