Behind the Scenes with Melissa Gelfin

Published Monday, July 6, 2020 9:00 am

Tell us about yourself and how your dance career began.

Hi everyone, my name is Melissa Gelfin. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and began my training at a studio close to my hometown. I think that my career really started the minute I decided I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer at age of 13. That’s when the work went from 50% to 150%. I spent my last two training years at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School with American Ballet Theatre in New York. I received my first contract dancing for Orlando Ballet where I spent four years of my career. I then joined Cincinnati Ballet where I have just completed my sixth season; second season as a Principal Dancer. 

Did you attend summer intensives growing up? If so, what were some of the valuable skills you learned?

I spent every summer training at an intensive, whether that was at my year-round studio or an intensive somewhere else. One of the wonderful things about summer intensives is the ability to have different teachers than you normally have on a daily basis. Hearing corrections and knowledge in different words from other teachers can ignite something that makes sense to you; where it might not have made the same impact before. Another important aspect of summer intensives is really in the name, intensive. It’s a time to really push yourself and surpass limitations you may have unintentionally put up for yourself. It’s the time to learn as much as you can and then take that knowledge with you throughout the year ahead. 

Were you heavily influenced by a certain instructor or intensive that pushed you to pursue a career in dance?

I have been so lucky to have had numerous, incredible teachers who have shaped and guided me to become the dancer, and more importantly, the person I try to become every day. I can’t say there was just one.

What is it like being Principal Dancer of Cincinnati Ballet? Can you tell us about your experiences as a professional dancer?

Oh gosh, it’s an absolute privilege to hold the rank of Principal Dancer. Never could my 13-year-old self have imagined being a Principal Dancer today and getting the opportunities that I have had and been able to experience. I could probably write pages on my experiences and all that there is still to learn, but the biggest thing that I want to stress is that the higher you climb, the harder it gets. There is never a time as a professional ballet dancer that you find yourself with the ability to be complacent. This career is not as incredible as it is because it is easy, it’s because you have to work harder today than you did yesterday to achieve and to succeed. This is why I love it.

What was your favorite show to perform in and why?

My favorite classical role that I have performed was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. The role and experience shaped and challenged me in ways that I never thought possible. I am a different dancer today as a result of becoming Juliet.

What can ballet students learn from your intensive this summer? What type of skills will you be focusing on?

I stress tailbone forward and on top of fifth position! I will focus on lower abdominal strength, length from the backs of the legs, placement of shoulders, and finding arm connection from your back.

What would you say makes Toledo Ballet’s summer intensive stand out?

Lisa Mayer-Lang makes Toledo Ballet stand out. A beautiful, strong, wonderful leader with a vision for the school and love for the students.

What’s your personal favorite part of summer intensives?

I love meeting new students and seeing the progress they make throughout the intensive!

If you could give a piece of advice for aspiring ballet students, what would it be?

This career is not as incredible as it is because it is easy, it’s because you have to work harder today than you did yesterday to achieve and to succeed. We are constantly trying to reach an unattainable perfection; this career is a never-ending journey. It’s exciting and beautiful and timeless.

Are there any fun facts that you’d like to share about yourself?

I love to write and share the ins and outs of being a ballerina and also who I am as a person when the tutu and tights come off and the jeans and sneakers go on. I started a blog about all of that titled "betweenstageandstreet." I’m also getting married this summer!

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