Layla Danielian dances ballet for 11 years and counting


Photo by Jennifer Hausdorfer

Freshman Layla Danielian performs as Marzipan in the Metropolitan Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker.

It is often overlooked just how demanding ballet is, but it requires a lifetime of painful training starting from a young age, with dancers having to train for years before they can even wear pointe shoes for the first time. Freshman Layla Danielian has danced ballet for 11 years since she started at the age of three.

Danielian dances for the Metropolitan Ballet Theater, performing in ballets such as The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. For this year’s spring performance, she danced as Carrabosse, the villainess in Sleeping Beauty. “My favorite performance was the first spring show I ever did, which was Alice in Wonderland. I was really little and my role was a lobster, but it holds a special place in my heart,” Danielian said.

World Languages teacher and ballet enthusiast Christine Maass has watched Danielian perform in both The Nutcracker and in Sleeping Beauty. “I was amazed. I was very surprised at the level of the dancers. The older dancers, like Layla, were professional-grade,” Maass said. “It was sheer joy to see them perform.”

Danielian started her ballet journey at Ballet Petite in Bethesda. “It was unexpected because I had really bad balance and my mom is very sporty and into basketball and soccer, so she never just put me into a ballet class,” she said. “I asked her myself to do ballet when I was three and I just kept doing it.”

Danielian attends ballet class six days a week, often doing more than one class per day. “On Tuesdays, for example, I have class from 3:15 to 8:45,” she said. “I also do summer intensives. This year, I’ll be going to the Washington Ballet for five weeks.”

With all the practice that ballet requires, it can be difficult to balance it with school. “Ballet takes up a lot of my time, so I usually try to get my homework done at school and study really far in advance for tests and quizzes,” freshman Madison Wan, another dancer from the Metropolitan Ballet Theater, said.

Teachers are impressed with Danielian’s academic work ethic. “I always expected Layla to come see me and ask if she could take a quiz or a test another day because she would have to leave early for ballet classes that would last until 10 p.m.. Even so, there’s no change in her academic performance and she doesn’t even look tired. It’s unbelievable,” Maass said.

Learning ballet is challenging and requires physical and mental exertion. “It’s definitely rigorous. Everyone thinks it’s so easy because it’s so beautiful, but it’s so much of a mind game to not compare yourself to other dancers and keep pushing yourself to do things that the human body is not really supposed to be able to do,” Danielian said.

Wan agrees. “There are a lot of standards placed upon you. When you’re in class, you’re expected to memorize a lot of steps and combinations. It’s really demanding, but you enjoy it so much and it lets you express yourself without speaking,” Wan said. “Ballet is my outlet of expression.”

Danielian does not plan to do ballet professionally after high school. “It’s a tough decision for a lot of people who have done ballet for so long, but it’s so hard to get into a company without connections,” she said. “I’m probably going to go to college, since that’s what my mom wants me to do, but I might minor in dance and get a degree in it.”