ST. PETERSBURG — After suffering a few broken bones in sports, Kenneth Shelby, a junior at Gibbs High School, took an interest in dance.
Thanks to his dedication and a bit of luck this past summer, Shelby will be in a major stage production in January that was written by a world-renowned choreographer.
"I chose dance because of the inspiration. I thought it was a nice thing to do — nice to move the body," Shelby said.
"I don't have the easiest body to work with. I have a football player's build. My muscles are always tight, and I have to stretch longer than everybody else," he said.
The 17-year-old Coquina Key resident started dancing when he was 8, but he admits he didn't take his training seriously until he reached high school.
He's now enrolled in classes at the Academy of Ballet Arts and studies modern dance and ballet at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs. For his latest project, Shelby said he's excited about adding stage fighting to his repertoire.
He is one of five Gibbs students selected for a part in Christopher Fleming's family production, Gaspar — A Pirate Fantasy. Fleming offered free master classes at PCCA in August.
"He's very dedicated, and he has some gymnastic skills which work well for a swashbuckling ballet," Fleming said.
Pirate Juan, Shelby's character, will be featured in both acts of Gaspar: one dance with a partner and the other involving aerial stunts and sword fighting.
Shelby said he has been too busy with rehearsals, classes and homework to get a driver's license. Nevertheless, he makes sure that he gets to rehearsal on time.
"Dance is my life, but you have to know how to balance your outside life, such as your homework, your family, your friends, your rehearsal, your chores," said Shelby, who is an A and B student.
In addition to his role in Gaspar, Shelby has a few productions from school and on the semi-professional stage under his belt. He will also play three parts in The Nutcracker at the Palladium this month.
The pressure of performing doesn't seem to bother him. "Just know who you are, know what you're capable of and work on it," he said.
"You try to do your best and more than your best in rehearsals," he said. "When you're on stage, you try to forget everything else, stay focused and just make it look the best you can."
He knows he's fortunate for all of the opportunities he has been given.
"Miss P has been so generous," Shelby said of Suzanne Pomerantzeff, artistic director for the Academy of Ballet Arts. "She's one of those people who can lift you up when you're down, and that's really important, at least for me."
Shelby recently made it to the semifinals for Youth America Grand Prix, an international dance competition, and was invited to perform in New York.
Acknowledging that colleges and companies might take an interest in him, Shelby said he would like to attend the Boston Conservatory or make it into a company such as the New York City Ballet, Lines or Complexions.
He has already had a bit of unexpected star treatment since joining the cast of Gaspar. He has noshed on gourmet food with the cast and sponsors in box seats at a Rays game, and he has made local television appearances for the upcoming production of Gaspar.
Discipline, hard work and an excellent support system, as well as a few lucky breaks, have opened a world of opportunities, Shelby said.