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
Lexile

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, allowing 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, 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 and 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 (13)
  • kayah-4-bar
    3/16/2016 - 02:23 a.m.

    Harper has better chance of fulfilling her dream in Russia because Russia one of the best and the most talented ballerinas there, ballet teachers and best ballet schools or programs. This shows Harper should be dancing in Russia because it where she can improve and even become a professional ballerina one day. If Harper were to go anywhere else she probably wouldst get the best quality of teaching and neither will she improve her ballet skills. 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.(paragraph 10). This paragraph shows that from learning ballet in Russia she has indeed improved her skills. I thought this article was very interesting considering the fact that I do ballet as well.

  • victoriak-ver
    3/16/2016 - 05:10 p.m.

    By going to Russia, Harper can learn from some of the most prestigious dance teachers in the world, and Harper is one of only a few who was accepted into the dance academy and especially only accepting 17 American students.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    3/16/2016 - 09:00 p.m.

    I think that Harper Otileb has been working very hard to be where she is right now. Even her teachers noticed her skills and determination. Harper has started ballet when she was three years old. She worked very hard and was accepted to the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland at the age of eleven. Now she is fifteen years old and is at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She got a lot of training by many teachers and some were strict. I think that Harper deserves where she is right now because she has a lot of determination and works hard to achieve her goal.

  • deaconp.-tay
    3/16/2016 - 10:21 p.m.

    I have no clue why you would go to a country like Russia, especially with Trump about to get elected. I understand persuing your dream, but not if it means life or death. And with Donald Trump, we all know it's gonna be another World War.

  • dallinp.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 05:56 p.m.

    Harper has a better chance of fulfilling her dream of doing ballet by going to Russia because the school she goes to in Russia is like an elite ballet academy. Like Harvard is a very prestigious school and like MIT is known for its technological discoveries, the ballet school in Russia is a very top-of-the-class kind of place.

  • kailynh.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 07:09 p.m.

    she will stand out while being surrounded by those Russian people who Russia is used to seeing on an everyday basis. if an American girl, considering her age, can do what a Russian person can do or even more in front of those people, she will look and stand out compared to the rest of the people in the same position.

  • calebc.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 07:23 p.m.

    Because Russia is all about ballet and that's what they do and that school is probably one of the best in the world seen there are people from all over the world there.

  • madisons.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 08:11 p.m.

    she has a better chance in Russia because the school is probably better there then the one she was originally at.

  • annah.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 10:00 p.m.

    This is so inspiring! She would definitely serve as a role model to younger generations if she shared her story everywhere.

  • matthewp-6-bar
    3/17/2016 - 11:23 p.m.

    Harper has a better chance of fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional dancer by going to Russia. The reason for this is because the Russian academy is better and more prestigious than the American academy. This is shown by,"The prestigious academy has 84 foreigners among its 721 student." My opinion about this article is I think it is great that she is already so committed to something.

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