Nine-year-old ballerina turns dream into reality with role in ‘The Nutcracker’

Robert Pelaez
Great Neck fourth-grader Sophia Shatzkes prepares for her role as a toy soldier in the Lincoln Center's performances of "The Nutcracker" (Photo courtesy of Nadine Shatzkes)

For young girls who aspire to be professional ballerinas, a dream could consist of starring in the Lincoln Center’s performance of “The Nutcracker.” 

Great Neck resident Sophia Shatzkes is turning that dream into reality at nine years old.

Sophia is currently a fourth-grader at the North Shore Hebrew Academy.

Twice a week after school, she hops on the train into New York City with either her mother or her grandparents. From there, they travel to the School of American Ballet, where she prepares for her upcoming performance.

“Ever since she was four years old, she’s been moving around pretty naturally,” Sophia’s father, Joshua Shatzkes, said.  “Once she started lessons, it was something that she was immediately drawn to.

Sophia was in kindergarten when she began ballet lessons at To The Pointe! dance studio in Great Neck.  There, she learned the routines and movements of ballet at a higher pace than the rest of the students.

According to her mother, Nadine, the passion Sophia had for ballet became apparent quickly.  Pairing that with how she was excelling through her lessons, Nadine encouraged her daughter to take her next step.

“I read a few advertisements about the School of American Ballet in passing, initially not looking too much into it,” Nadine said. “When we inquired about auditions to attend the school, our family agreed we should send her in and just give it a shot.”

 The school is very private with their auditioning process, not allowing even the parents to witness it.  Sophia came out of the audition encouraged by her performance, as she and her mother traveled back to Great Neck to await the decision. 

Two weeks later, Sophia was accepted into the school, and her family agreed this was an opportunity that could not be passed up.

“Our whole family knew that, if we decided to enroll Sophia, that we would be making some sacrifices in our lives,” Nadine said. “There really wasn’t any hesitation though.  We explained to her that this takes dedication and that this is something she has to want to do, not us. But we knew she wanted this, and still does.”

Now, twice a week after North Shore Hebrew Academy dismisses their students, Sophia hops on the train into Manhattan, finishes her homework, and prepares herself for her role as a toy soldier in “The Nutcracker.” 

Initially, she tried out for the role of the angel, but after hearing the role went to someone else, Sophia had a decision to make.

“Those auditions were tough on her,” Nadine said. “Once the angel role was filled, there was a toy soldier she fit the height requirements for. I told her there was still no guarantee she would be in the play, but she turned to me and told me that she would go into that audition and get that role. Sure enough, she did.”

“You can’t teach that type of self-esteem and confidence in your child,” Joshua said. “She wanted it, so she took it.  I couldn’t have been more proud of her.”

The show is broken up into two separate groups, each performing over 20 shows.  Members of each group are also assigned to be the understudy role of the other group.  Nadine said that her daughter is not phased by that many large-scale performances and that she is excited to see her on stage.

“Because everything is done so privately there, the school does not provide many opportunities for parents to see their child perform, especially at a young age,” she explained. “So the fact that we have the ability to see her on stage in this type of setting is simply incredible.”

“She’s worked her way up the ladder so much already,” Joshua said. “We will always support her in what she wants to do. She’s really rising to the occasion at such a young age still. It’s wonderful to watch.”

Accomplishing a dream at nine years old warrants developing a new one, but Nadine said that her daughter intends to stick with ballet and take it one year at a time.

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