Teen pursues ballet dream in Russia In this photo taken on Thursday, March 3, 2016, Harper Ortlieb, from Mount Hood, Oregon, warms up for a performance at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Teen pursues ballet dream in Russia
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Among the dozen 15-year-old girls in lavender leotards in Tatyana Galtseva's class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, one is different. And it's not just because of her long, swan-like neck.
 
She is Harper Ortlieb, an American, who left her small town in Oregon to move to Moscow to follow her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.
 
The prestigious academy has 84 foreigners among its 721 students. But few are accepted when they are as young as Harper and few are integrated into the regular Russian program.
 
"She is a very gifted girl. She is all ballet, all inspiration," Galtseva said. "When children are talented, regardless of their nationality, they are alike in some way in how they approach what they do."
 
The Bolshoi took notice of Harper during a summer program it held in Connecticut and offered her a place in the Moscow academy. She knew her teachers would be tough and that it would be a challenge to be so far away from home. But it has been even harder than she expected.
 
"It's been very difficult, but with that comes strength and with that I improve," Harper said. "I feel like I came here to get better, to improve, not only technically but emotionally so when I dance people see something."
 
One concern for her parents in the decision to send their daughter, then 14, to Moscow was the strain in U.S.-Russian relations and the strong anti-American sentiments in Russian society.
 
Harper, though, says she feels accepted by her classmates. Her teacher concurs, noting that just that morning some of the other girls had brought her a skirt to wear over her leotard because they were expecting a visit to the class by foreign journalists.
 
In her Moscow neighborhood, the women in her favorite grocery store have taken a shine to the delicate American teen, helping her pick out fresh fruit and keeping her favorite almond butter stocked. And in the local Starbucks, they have learned to spell her unusual name on her cup.
 
A total of 17 Americans study at the Bolshoi academy. They are outnumbered among the foreign students only by the 28 from Japan, with the rest coming from 22 other countries. Some of the foreign students took part in the spring concert, and Harper was among the few girls from her class chosen for two of the dances.
 
"Preparing for a performance, it's all you think about. It kind of overtakes your mind," she said. "Preparing for exams, I'm always very nervous. There's a lot of stress. But with that stress, you know, comes happiness and you feel overjoyed when you're dancing. You forget about everything. You forget about the sacrifices you make. You forget about the pain, or the tears. Dancing is what makes me happy, no matter how much you have to sacrifice."
 
Her teacher believes Harper has what it takes to be a classical ballerina. She possesses not just the necessary physical and aesthetic qualities but also the will to learn.
 
"She is extraordinarily attentive," Galtseva said. "She is always smiling. Such a sweet, wonderful girl."
 
If Harper wants to be one of those rare foreigners who receive a diploma from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, she has three more difficult years ahead. But now she has her mother back by her side.
 
Harper's mother, Layne Baumann, made two trips to Moscow after she and her husband, Tim Ortlieb, dropped off their only child in September. In February, Baumann decided to move to Moscow at least for the rest of the school year. She rents an apartment two blocks from the academy. It's allowed Harper to move out of the dormitory.
 
At the end of each day, Baumann talks to her daughter about what she learned in class and logs onto Skype. That allows Harper's father to join the conversation from their home in Mount Hood, Oregon. It is 11 time zones away.
 
In addition to her dance classes, Harper has Russian language lessons every day at the academy. For her other subjects, she does online classes in the evenings and on weekends.  Sunday is her only day off.  On that day, she and her mother often explore their new city. They also have already seen more performances at the Bolshoi Theater than most Russians see in a lifetime.
 
Harper started ballet when she was three years old. When she turned 11, she was accepted to the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland. It is a three-hour round-trip journey that she and her mother made six days a week.
 
"Being three in ballet class, it's fun and games," Harper said, smiling at the recollection. "My teacher was wonderful, it was so much fun. And then once I got more professional I realized how much you have to sacrifice. And how difficult it is."
 
She talks about learning to deal with the pain of wearing pointe shoes and the constant feeling of doubt that she's not good enough.
 
"And I'm not good enough. I mean, I'm not," Harper said. "We have to wait. I have to work harder."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Harper have a better chance of fulfilling her dream by going to Russia?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (30)
  • isabellaw-1-bar
    3/18/2016 - 01:15 a.m.

    Harper has a better chance of fulfilling her dream by going to Russia because she had Russian training and going to The Bolshoi Ballet Company would help improve. "She is Harper Ortlieb, an American, who left her small town in Oregon to move to Moscow to follow her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.."

    I found this suprising because I am a dancer and I do not think my parents would ever let me go to Russia by myself at such a young age.

  • autianae-ste
    3/18/2016 - 06:19 a.m.

    I think she is very inspiring because she's doing what everyone has always said to do: follow your dream. I can believe that she's going to be an incredible dancer in the future, if not now.

  • sydneyk-ver
    3/18/2016 - 10:11 a.m.

    Harper has a better chance of fulfilling her dream in Russia because it is one of the best ballet schools. The article also says, "her teacher believes Harper has what it takes to be a classical ballerina." Which means she has what it takes to becoming a amazing dancer because of this school. I think she has extreme bravery to be able to move into Russia,but if it's her dream then she should be supported.

  • carissap-ver
    3/18/2016 - 03:28 p.m.

    She wanted to go to Russia to fulfill her dreams of being a prima ballerina because American trainers weren't able to give her the right amount of training she needed. Also the Bolshio Ballet Academy is one of the best ballet schools she could attend.

  • hturner-cel
    3/23/2016 - 10:13 a.m.

    By Harper going to Russia it gives her a better chance of fulfilling her dream of becoming a prima ballerina which is the highest type of ballerina in any company. Many girls strive for this goal but only a few receive it. She was a Russian trained ballerina living in America and it wasn't that the training she was receiving wasn't good, it was she the fact that you can only get so far with a company that has the limited resources.So now that she has moved to Russia shes is getting the BEST training from the BEST ballet school in the world. It's also a huge honor to be able to receive your diploma from the Bolshoi school. She will go far in her dance career

  • allyt-612-
    3/24/2016 - 01:30 p.m.

    Harper has the chance because it is her dream to be a preferential dancer. By her going to Russia she has the chance to explore something other then ballet. She is learning a new langue and culture.

  • gabrielav-
    3/24/2016 - 08:18 p.m.

    Harper has a better chance of fulfilling her dream by going to Russia because according to the passage "A total of 17 Americans study at the Bolshoi academy," which means there are not many, so she doesn't have as much could with other foreigners. She is also very talented.

  • sierrab-ste
    4/01/2016 - 09:18 a.m.

    This is so great. The fact that she left her home and friends behind to accomplish her dreams and make a great future. Everyone should follow what this girl has accomplished.

  • ameliat-Orv
    4/04/2016 - 12:55 p.m.

    I think Harper has a better chance in Russia because she stands out more and draws more attention, which can sometimes be good in ballet, because people look at you more.

  • 22pecarl-
    4/07/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    Harper is an American girl who loves ballet and wants to go to a ballet school in Russia. She loves it there and wants to stay. She feels as if her Russian classmates trust and like her. Even though, there is problems between America and Russia, doesn't mean she can't go to Russia to do something she loves.

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