By John Pendygraft
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — The dancer spends every day in pain and doesn't dare show it. She knows not to drop her head or grimace when the instructor is looking. Moping, complaining or being injury-prone gives a dancer a fatal reputation. Six hours of daily training is the norm, and the competition at the Next Generation Ballet school at the Patel Conservatory is fierce. The teenage-mean-girl factor is off the charts, especially for Hannah Stanford, who stands out. Her face is on a banner draped on the side of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. She is headed on scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. The day she was cast as the lead in Sleeping Beauty, a dozen other equally driven teenage girls weren't.
At 15, she has learned to ignore the drama and stay focused. Dance is her one true love, and there is little room for friends, movies, proms, boyfriends, junk food or anything else that's part of typical teenage life.
Two days before the opening of Sleeping Beauty, she landed wrong during a workout and injured a toe. A new secret injury, and another risk to balance.
Last year she danced through pain for the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York and lost the bet. She suffered a stress fracture and lost the principal spot in Cinderella. Instead of a getting a glass slipper, she wore an orthopedic boot and worried about her future as she watched another dancer in her spotlight.
The day of the final Sleeping Beauty rehearsal, it hurt to put on her pointe shoes, but she knew she could handle the pain. Then the director casually informed her that night's onstage kiss from the prince would have to be on the lips. In practice she had turned to her cheek. She had never kissed a boy and had always thought her first kiss would be for love.
Hannah fought the butterflies in her stomach and fumbled with her lipstick. She hoped out loud it wouldn't come off on the prince. "It's kind of a big deal, but what is one more sacrifice?" she said. "Fairy tales aren't all fiction. People read them because life relates to fairy tales. Aurora is 15 going on 16 in Act I, just like me, and she has to get married. I'm going away for the first time, to the Royal Ballet. We're both coming of age."
The music starts to swell. She plasters on a pain-free, fairy-tale face. Her arms float to position. The music hits her cue, and Hannah rushes to her true love.