By Nancy Better
Photos By ChiChi Ubiña
When Isabella Long’s friends strapped on their backpacks and headed through the doors of Greenwich High School this fall, she wasn’t among the freshman class.
Instead, Isabella was tying up the satin ribbons on her pink pointe shoes and preparing for a 40-hour week of intensive ballet training in New York City.
“My dream is to become a principal dancer in one of the world’s largest and most prestigious companies,” says Isabella.
At 14, Isabella appears well on her way. Her lengthy resume includes dozens of performances, as well as recognition at local and national competitions. Last spring, she was accepted at the Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program, a renowned Manhattan-based academy that regularly graduates dancers who join top companies across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
While her peers back in Greenwich are studying algebra and biology, Isabella is taking technique, pointe, and contemporary dance, along with physical conditioning and stretching classes. She’s in the studio from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every weekday, and often rehearses on weekends. Academics are delivered through online schooling; as a top student at Stanwich, which she attended for eight years, Isabella is keen on advancing her education as well as her dancing.
“Before I realized this was the career I wanted to pursue, ballet was just one of the many sports I enjoyed with my friends,” she explains. “Now I have decided to drop everything else to concentrate on ballet. Each and every day I can’t wait to get into the studio and get to work.”
Isabella started movement classes at Dance Adventure in Greenwich as a toddler. By kindergarten, she moved to Connecticut Ballet, where she appeared in her first performance of “The Nutcracker.” At seven, she joined Greenwich Ballet Academy, where she began the studio’s rigorous Vaganova program. This method originated in St. Petersburg, Russia and produced many of the world’s greatest dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Rudolph Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Throughout elementary and middle school, Isabella trained six days a week, doing homework in the car and late at night. It was an exhausting routine, but she never wavered. “She’s incredible at time management,” says Alessandra Massineo Long, Isabella’s mother. “She has to plan ahead every step of the way, and be extremely dedicated and persistent.”
Alessandra praises Greenwich Ballet Academy for offering technically challenging instruction in a nurturing environment. Founded in 2006, the studio has grown to include over 100 students and a dozen instructors.
“We’ll really miss GBA, because it’s been such an important part of Isabella’s life,” says Alessandra. “The fact that she could have such high-level classical training close to home allowed her to balance her dance and academics. Someday she would love to return to GBA, perhaps as a guest artist.”
In 2017, Isabella qualified for the Youth America Grand Prix regional competition in Boston, where she earned honors performing a piece from “Swan Lake.” The following year she competed at the YAGP finals in New York City, where she won a prize for her performance of the “Odalisque” variation from “Le Corsaire.” She was invited to attend programs at the Bolshoi Ballet and London’s Royal School of Ballet – but she was determined to train with Edward Ellison, a former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet.
Although she won’t be taking typical high school tests, Isabella must pass difficult evaluations to progress through Ellison’s program. “I’m nervous for my first ballet exams because I’ve never had to take them in order move on to another year of training,” she admits. “I’m a perfectionist and I have to realize I will never get it perfect. I just have to keep doing my best and keep a positive attitude because training is just as hard on the mind as it is on the body.”
Alessandra agrees, and believes Isabella will learn valuable lessons that go beyond the stage. “She has to develop a thick skin, and be able to handle corrections and criticism and not take it personally. Those are important skills, both in ballet and in life.”
As the holidays approach, Isabella will miss dancing in “The Nutcracker,” where she has appeared in nearly every role. “It’s my favorite ballet because I’ve performed in it as long as I can remember. I love Christmas and the holiday season and year after year my dear friends and family would come watch and support me.”
Looking ahead, Isabella says, “I hope to be able to dance as long as possible because it makes me happiest when I am doing what I love.”