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Largo teen lands invitation to prestigious Miami ballet school

She can't remember her age when she did her first arabesque, and as far as the first time she tried a penche, the ballerina can recall only her teacher's instructions: Don't lean forward. Keep your chest up.

And what about the big moment? When did she know she wanted to be a ballerina?

"Just always,'' is her answer. "I've always wanted it.''

For Katharine Rygiel, the future is swirling swiftly toward her these days. The 15-year-old Largo resident has been invited to join the Miami City Ballet School.

The invitation came in late July, as she completed the five-week 2010 Summer Intensive program at the school. And it means she is moving to Miami.

She will live with 16 other girls in a dorm near Miami City Ballet's main campus on Liberty Avenue. The rising sophomore who would have attended Largo High School will enroll at Miami Beach High School.

The Miami City Ballet was founded in 1989 by Edward Villella, who danced for George Balanchine's New York City Ballet during its golden age in the 1960s. He was the only American ever asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

Until now, Katharine's ballet teacher has been Sarah Jones, owner of Company "B" Ballet Center on Ulmerton Road.

"Ballet is in her soul,'' Jones said. "From the moment she walked into my studio, when she was 6 years old, we knew she was a natural. She has that driving desire, and although she needs to go on, she's leaving a sisterhood here with the girls she's danced with these past years, too.''

Katharine is making sure to attend as many classes as she can with her friends at Company B before she leaves. Miami City Ballet School classes start Aug. 30.

"I think other girls who I've been dancing with are as good as me, but I think I'm just motivated differently," she said. "I've known since about sixth grade that I needed to go away to advance.''

Once at the new school, she will spend every weekday from about 2:45 to 8:30 p.m., as well as Saturdays, in the studio. She will focus on the Balanchine method, which requires extreme speed and unconventional arm and hand movements.

She already knows her challenges. She'll need to focus even more on syncopation. "That means I have to learn more on rhythm, and work on holding my head and arms a very particular way,'' she said.

She expects a lot of muscle soreness. "I think when you are out of the normal environment you've been in, you use different muscles,'' she said.

Katharine received an invitation because of her physical abilities and her aptitude, said Carter Alexander, school principal of Miami City Ballet School.

"At her age, there's no way we can say what she will develop into, but the teachers liked her movement quality, and she seems to have a personal drive,'' he said.

He stressed this doesn't mean she will automatically become a dancer in Miami City Ballet. But a large number of the Miami City School dancers have gone on to become professional dancers.

"Last year, Edward Villella hired 14 new dancers, and 13 of those came from Miami City Ballet School,'' he said.

As her departure date nears, she is staying close to her family.

She is the daughter of Rebecca Brockhoff of Largo and Robert Rygiel of Palm Harbor. She has two brothers: Zach Rygiel, 20, who attends St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and Sam Rygiel, 18, who is starting his freshman year at Valparaiso University in Indiana.

"I'm very close to my mom, and she's also getting ready for my brother Sam to go away to college for the first time so, it's hard,'' she said. "We'll all be leaving her at once.''

And how is her mother holding up?

Brockhoff, who works for Delta Airlines in reservations, is using the last few weeks with her daughter to coordinate finances (tuition and the dormitory are $7,000) and clear the calendar for last-minute get-togethers with her children.

"If you're a mom, you know how hard this is, but I know how much she wants this," said Brockhoff, 54. "I guess I could say no, but you know a person gets certain shots in life, so here we go.''

Brockhoff also is quick to add that she never expected to have a ballerina daughter.

"I was a tomboy, and I remember telling my former husband when I was still pregnant with her, that I wasn't going to make my daughter take dance lessons just because she was a girl, but now I keep having this memory of her as a little girl dancing around the pool," she said. "It's who she is.''

As far as the dancer's brothers go, there's still time for some last-minute ribbing. Zach is filled with brotherly concern. However, he also expressed a bit of relief that the ballerina is finding stages in faraway places.

It seems every year he's spent his birthday, Dec. 23, seeing his sister perform in a Nutcracker recital.

"Maybe the one benefit of seeing her leave home," he joked, "is I won't have to do that on my next birthday.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4163.

Largo teen lands invitation to prestigious Miami ballet school 08/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 6:56pm]
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