Courtesy photo by David Harris of Time Frames Photography.

Theater & Dance

Becoming a Ballerina

As a young girl in Dallas, Julia Cinquemani dreamed of being a ballerina. Now a principal dancer for the Los Angeles Ballet Company, she'll come home to perform this weekend.

The last time Julia Cinquemani visited her native West Dallas neighborhood she took a stroll near the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

The majestic arches and steel cables twisted and turned in a choreography of graceful arabesques and pirouettes with sparkling skyscrapers reaching for the sky. New twin arches of the nearby Margaret McDermott Bridge danced above the Trinity River basin.

Named after Dallas arts patrons, the two bridges didn’t exist when Cinquemani, 24, took her first ballet lesson almost two decades ago in a storefront down the street near the Trinity Groves neighborhood. Now the principal dancer for the Los Angeles Ballet Company, she often visits her home in Dallas, where the soaring metal structures cradle her childhood neighborhood of deep-rooted cedar trees and aging industrial yards juxtaposed with new restaurants and developing art venues.

This weekend, the alumna of the Dallas Ballet Center will return home to dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Dallas Ballet Company’s 30th annual performance of The Nutcracker. It will be the first time Cinquemani, who has performed in various venues in the United States and Europe, will play a the lead role as a professional in her hometown since leaving at the age of 16 to pursue her career.

“I always dreamed of becoming a ballerina and now I’m coming full circle,” she says. “I have to pinch myself to make sure this is for real.”

Although many young children aspire to dance in the ballet, few make it this far.

Judy Klopfenstein, co-owner of the Dallas Ballet Center with her husband, Brent, says she first saw Cinquemani dance at the age of 9, when the young dancer was taking lessons at the center off Abrams Road.

“I was teaching an older class and I happened to walk by to see this little girl making a grand plié with a perfect turnout and pointed foot,” Klopfenstein says. “It stopped me in my tracks.”

She asked her to do it again. And again.

She began taking Cinquemani to summer work sessions with the School of American Ballet in New York City.

“Even as a young girl, Julia was mature beyond her age,” Klopfenstein says. “Not only does she have great facility, she has a deep appreciation for the arts. She takes every role seriously.”

Cinquemani grew up watching her parents work as artists in their home studio. Her older brother, Dominic, studied piano. It was a place where she spread her arms and practiced her spins for an audience of family and friends. She attended Rosemont Elementary School in Oak Cliff and dabbled in piano and violin. She danced as Mini Mouse in a recital at a dance studio a few blocks from her home.

As a student at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, she learned about the history and culture of dance through contemporary performances with the Rep I Dance Company. She continued classes at the Dallas Ballet Center where she performed in Act II of Swan Lake.

In 2008, the Texas Commission on the Arts named Cinquemani a Texas Young Master for her work in the arts. At the end of 10th grade, Cinquemani flew with Klopfenstein to Seattle to audition for the pre-professional program the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company.

At just 16, she decided to make dancing a full-time endeavor. She rented an apartment near the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company in Seattle and spent long hours dancing. Far from home, the young teen called her parents for recipes as she taught herself to cook. When most teens were going to proms, learning to drive and attending college, she was rehearsing and spending her evenings on stage. She cried when her feet hurt.

But she would wrap them up and get back on her toes. In between dance workouts, she finished high school through a correspondence course. When she found her leotards too boxy for her thin frame, she designed and sewed her own line of clothing, which she continues to market as Jule Dancewear online and in 100 stores across the world.

At 18, Cinquemani began dancing full-time for the Los Angeles Ballet Company. In 2012, she was named soloist and shortly after a performance in Swan Lake in 2014 she became principal dancer. This is her seventh season with the professional company.

On her brief visits to Dallas between performance seasons in Los Angeles, her parents took her for spins around the block to teach her how to drive. She needed a way to get to rehearsals in California.

“It wasn’t easy for me to let her go so far at such a young age,” says her mother, Linnea Glatt, an artist who is represented by the Barry Whistler Gallery. “But I love that she is so happy and in love with what she does.”

Even as a professional, Cinquemani often returns to the Dallas Ballet Center to mentor aspiring dancers or to perfect her own techniques. It’s her way of giving back to the community where she grew up.

“Every day is about setting the bar a little higher.”

“The dancers at the center are like family to me,” she says.

Ballet is a mental discipline. Cinquemani learns the narrative of her performances by watching the moves over and over on video. She studies the music, embracing its dynamics and emotion.

“Mentally I am always setting new goals and standards for myself,” she says. “I am my own worst critic. As I look back over the past several years, I am able to see the progress that I have made dancing many demanding lead roles.”

There’s only so much you can teach. For Cinquemani, drive and passion come from within, Judy Klopfenstein says.

“We always called her Jules; she certainly is a jewel, a multi-faceted gem of a dancer,” she says.

It’s a gem Cinquemani continues to polish.

“As a perfectionist I strive to push myself to be the best I can possibly be,” she says. “Every day is about setting the bar a little higher.”

Cinquemani will perform with the Dallas Ballet Company at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at the Granville Arts Center in Garland. For tickets and more information, go here.

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