When millions of fresh-faced 18-year-olds have already been swept away from their high schools to explore the campuses of their respective colleges, one young woman is pushing to hold on to a life-changing opportunity not granted to many Americans, let alone African-Americans.
In August of this year, Nicole Zadra, of Irvington, New York was offered a traineeship at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. Established in 1773, the institution has trained "a world class of dancers." Zadra, who has been learning ballet since she was four-years-old, has dreamed of being part of this legacy since watching Youtube videos of the Bolshoi when she was younger.
"I never thought I would be able to get invited and when I found out I cried for like two hours and I was so happy with excitement," said Zadra.
However, once the moment settled in, she soon discovered that money would be an obstacle.
"I realized it was $16,000, so I was going to have a hard time paying for it. I got a little worried that I probably wouldn't be able to go," she explained.
On August 27, she launched her "Bolshoi Ballet Academy Dreams" Go Fund Me page and began sharing it with friends and family through Facebook.
Zadra then took another huge leap of faith and e-mailed Misty Copeland, the first African-American female soloist for the American Ballet Theatre based in New York City, another world-class ballet company. Zadra considers Copeland a huge role model.
"She actually took my e-mail and wrote it as her [Facebook] status. After she did that I got tons of donations from random people I never heard of, and next thing I know I get a huge donation from this guy named Questlove," said Zadra.
On September 2, Questlove of The Roots tweeted, "help send @nicolezads to moscow to study with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy…RT any amount will help her."
The musician also tweeted her Go Fund Me account to The Huffington Post Arts, explaining he felt connected to her story because he was unable to attend the Juilliard School when he was younger because he couldn’t afford it. Questlove’s activity pushed more donations to Zadra.
“This man who doesn’t even know me tweeted about me and now my story is out there and others are sharing. It was so sweet! He is like an Angel!,” Zadra wrote recently on a blog she published to document her journey.
As of September 25, the young dancer has received $6,650 which is almost half her target goal of $15,000 to attend one year of the program from October 13, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
This past winter, Zadra auditioned for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy as an applicant for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, and was accepted into a six-week intensive program at the school during the summer of 2012. The Russian American Foundation and the Youth Department of State sponsored her expenses.
“When I got back home, they asked me to come year-round,” said Zadra.
“It's pretty much the best school in the world and the best dancers come out of it and being an African-American dancer, it's harder in the ballet world to get jobs and to get into schools and you're not always going to be noticed in classes. And it's just a huge opportunity that Bolshoi saw something in me,” she gushed.
Her mother, Erina Zadra, who raised Nicole as a single mother, is proud of her daughter’s success and says the sacrifices she made to pay for her many years of training was worth it.
“There was a lot of time that she gave up to do ballet and I gave up in order to bring her there and back and wait for her, so I think we sacrificed a lot but she genuinely loves it. So it wasn't really a sacrifice when you look at it that way, because she loves what she does,” said Erina.
Nicole was accepted into the University of Hartford’s Hartt School but decided going to college for dance wasn’t the best choice for her. After receiving this invitation, she’s even more certain that her purpose is in the world of ballet and is eager to take on the challenge of changing the face of it.
“I want to become a professional ballerina, so I want to get into some big major companies, but I know it's going to be hard; companies like American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet or even the Bolshoi,” said Nicole.
Even though she understands the odds against her, she remains determined.
“It's going to be hard for the Bolshoi because it's Russian and you don't see a lot of minorities — you don't see any minorities in a Russian ballet and I wish to change that, but it's going to be hard and I have to work hard,” said Zadra.
Natelegé Whaley is an emerging writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She has penned many artist profiles in the world of hip-hop and R&B, but her favorite stories come from everyday people. She also curates perspectives from young adults on relationships, life, and culture. Connect @NateIege.