West Port student seeks future in ballet

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William Welch is from Dunnellon


By Augie Salzer

There is one young man in Dunnellon with the brute strength, balance, flexibility, endurance and the strong core muscular development to be a professional dancer in the ballet.

William Welch, 17, has been working diligently for the last seven years just to obtain this status.

The ballet is a type of dance using precise steps, hand gestures and graceful movements which started in Italy during the Renaissance era. It didn’t take long before Russia and France started their own style of ballet explaining why most of the terminology and vocabulary of the dance moves are in the French language.

Both men and women perform in the classic ballet and learn the techniques of the dance. They both wear the soft ballet shoe which is made from leather or satin and is specifically designed for ballet dancing. The women wear a pink or beige slipper and the men will wear a black or white one.

There is also a special “pointe” slipper for the women who are trained to dance “en pointe” which has the dancer putting all their weight on the tips of their toes. The male dancers don’t usually perform this technique in their role of the ballet.

An unexpected change in family circumstances started Welch on the road to learning the difficult steps of the ballet. While in the fourth grade he had to leave St. John Lutheran School and transfer to the Madison Street Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.

He started taking Tap and Jazz after school with Sheila Ruotolo, the founder and director of the Madison Street Performing Arts Department.

“As a fourth-grader, I was confused between Jazz and Jive like they have on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ so I assumed I would be paired up with girls,” Welch said with a smile. “I thought it would be an opportunity to meet girls after transferring to a new school. I found out it wasn’t that way at all, but I liked the dancing anyway.”

He enjoyed the athleticism of the dance since he previously played soccer and baseball with the Dunnellon Little League.

“Through the end of fourth grade, while I was doing Master School Dance, I was still in baseball,” he said. “We were doing a lot of traveling with the Dunnellon Little League and I found I didn’t have the time in my schedule for both.”

By sixth grade, he went to Howard Middle School, but they didn’t have a dance group at that time. Since there were so many graduates of the Madison Street Academy attending Howard Middle School, the dance teacher, Ruotolo, started another performance group for the dancers.

“I really got interested in this and I asked her what I had to do to get better,” Welch said. “She told me I had to take classes. Five of us took actual classes separate from the performance group and that is where I started Ballet, Tap and Jazz. That was my introduction to ballet.”

In seventh grade, he went to the Extensions Dance Studio in Ocala and continued taking lessons for two years with the same teacher.

“I started taking all the ballet classes offered to me,” he said. “I even took the classes below me just to get in as much practice as I could.

After the ninth grade, Welch went to the Orlando Ballet Summer Intensive School using the Florida Ballet facilities in Jacksonville. The program has dance lessons six hours a day, six days a week for two weeks teaching precise footwork, ballet techniques and preparing the students for Classical Ballet Companies.

Currently, he is taking about 13 hours of lessons each week from the company director of the Dance Alive National Ballet and private lessons from professional dancer and teacher Leo Clarke. On his own time he does stretches, conditioning and lifting free weights in addition to all the classes.

“I enjoy the athleticism of it all and the challenge. I like a good challenge,” Welch said. “It’s not like gymnastics were you can just power through, you’re doing all the hard things, but making them look easy.”

All the lessons and hard work have resulted in Welch performing in classical ballets with internationally famous dancers.

He has already performed in “Firebird,” the last piece in a collection of four short ballets by Dance Alive National Ballet (DANB). Welch was a monster in the dance with the responsibility of carrying the prince around. He also has performed in the Nutcracker Ballet by DANB, which is the State Touring Company of Florida and the Official Arts Ambassadors of Gainesville.

“This is a pretty big accomplishment for me,” he said. “I’m playing minor roles in professional ballet productions.”

Welch recently had the principle role in a short ballet called “The River” during the Spring Concert in Gainesville.

With so much of his time and energy spent on dancing he still manages to have good SAT and AP scores. He also takes honors pre-calculus, honors anatomy and advanced placement U.S. History in his junior year at West Port High School.

His goal after he graduates is to be in a ballet company, but it doesn’t have to be right after high school.

“It would be nice if I could use my ballet credentials to get into a college with a dance program to continue my training,” Welch said. “I have a lot of opportunities for different career fields through the letters I’m getting from institutions like Washington University in St. Louis and Sarah Lawrence College.”

His father, Pastor Jeff Welch of the Dunnellon Presbyterian Church, is very proud of his son.

“The biggest surprise I had is he chose to dance. I thought he would be in sports,” his father said. “I’m so proud of him and all his hard work. He is a good student and he is very active in the church youth group.”

Augie Salzer is a correspondent with the Riverland News. Email her at Augie@thingsintown.com.