Abby Merlis’ high school years were grueling.
Every afternoon at 2:15, she rushed from Staples to the train station. She did homework on the way to New York; hurried to ballet for intensive classes; raced back to the train and did more homework, arriving home at 10 p.m.
Abby loved it.
She’d been dancing since she was 3. At Westport’s Academy of Dance she did it all: modern, jazz, tap. But at age 10 Abby began watching classical ballet performances, and found ballet videos on YouTube. She was hooked.
Her Academy of Dance teachers saw her potential. They encouraged her to study in the city.
Abby commuted to New York after school from freshman through junior years.
It was tough. She learned focus and diligence (and how to run to catch trains). But she gave up plenty: tennis, friends, writing. She did not feel like part of the school community, though she loved her teachers and classes.
Those were sacrifices she made willingly. And, in retrospect, she thinks they were worth it.
She had nearly enough credits to graduate early, and finished online. She walked at commencement last June, with her Class of 2015. But she’d already spent a year away, training with the Boston Ballet.
There were 15 dancers in her class. Only one was offered a contract for the coming year. Abby was that one.
She’ll be in the 2nd company, performing in nearly every production that needs a sizable corps. Boston Ballet II also does its own shows, and offers outreach programs to schools.
Boston Ballet is a very versatile company, Abby says. She is immersed in traditional classical, neo-classical and contemporary dance.
This is all a dream come true, Abby says. She loves the physicality of dance — the jumps and turns. Artistically it is fulfilling too. “Dancing to beautiful music is a gift,” she explains. “It’s a unique art form, and you can explore it endlessly.”
As for the discipline ballet demands, Abby says, “you have to keep improving. You can never be complacent.”
She calls Boston Ballet “a community. It’s competitive, but I’ve never had closer relationships with people. We bond over so much.” Dancing on stage with friends, knowing all their hard work has paid off, is a wonderful feeling, she says.
So will dance be her ultimate career? Abby is still not sure.
Last year, she was accepted by Princeton University. She deferred admission for a year, and can do so one more time.
“I’ll see how this year as a professional dancer goes,” she says. “I’ve worked for this my entire life, and Boston Ballet was my first choice company.”
Yet she knows though that anything can happen. Dance is “a young person’s career — and it’s short.”
During all those high school trains rides, Abby studied subjects she loved, like sustainable development and public policy. They loom as possible post-dance careers.
For now however, she looks forward to her first year with the Boston Ballet.
It will be at least as hectic as all her high school days.
And — hopefully — even more rewarding.