Life as a teenager can be tough enough without throwing a full-time commitment in the mix, but when it’s your passion, the effort is beyond worth it.
Celeste Lopez-Keranen has balanced going to high school and making friends with being a serious dancer, and she’s currently a trainee in the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. She’s trained at summer intensives at Grand Rapids Ballet, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, Academy of Russian Classical Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the American Ballet Theater.
We talked with Lopez-Keranen all about how she got started and what it’s like to be a young dancer.
Tell us about yourself.
I am 18 years old, and I currently live in Jenison with my family. I went through the public school system until about my sophomore year. When I wanted to get even more serious with ballet, I changed to a part-time online school and did a year of that. The next year, I was offered to be a trainee with the Grand Rapids Ballet. I just graduated high school about a month ago. Something else that’s really important to me is that I’m half Mexican; my dad is from Mexico.
When did you start dancing, and when did you begin dancing with the Grand Rapids Ballet?
I started ballet as a toddler with a woman named Nancy Balm. She passed in 2010, but I would dance with scarves just around in her basement. She really made me fall in love with it. She got a little older and wasn’t able to teach anymore, so I switched to a competition studio. I did that for a while, and then my mom stumbled upon a Grand Rapids ballet summer workshop for my brother and I. We did that, and we loved it.
Your youth has been pretty counterculture as a dancer, as you’re focusing so intensely on your art. What have been some challenges you’ve experienced?
Definitely time management. In public school, it was really hard to find teachers who understood that, but the partial online school — called Next Tech on the west side of Grand Rapids — was really awesome. I love what I do, but sometimes I’ll get home and think, ‘That football game could have been cool,’ or things like that. But then randomly in a rehearsal I’m like, ‘Wow. What I’m doing is so cool.’
Was there a moment where it clicked for you, and you knew you wanted to be a professional dancer?
When I was 10, I thought I had all this time. Then I turned 16, and I was like, ‘Shoot, I have like two years to get really good and then audition for companies if I really want to do this.’ I really feel like I had a whole mindset change. I think I always knew I wanted to be a dancer, though. I never pictured myself doing anything else, and I never ever saw myself quitting.
What helps you keep going when things get challenging, and what inspires you?
Ballet isn’t something that you always get gratitude from the teachers and affirmation. So I had to notice, ‘Celeste, you couldn’t do this a month ago. That’s an improvement. This is good.’ I think setting small personal goals helps too. It doesn’t even have to be about dance. It could be to get to class an hour and a half early today to warm up or to be more organized.
I had a teacher once say, ‘If you danced onstage and you didn’t inspire anyone in the audience, you’re doing it wrong.’ This is supposed to be magical. So the audience really inspires me, and the growing city of Grand Rapids inspires me too. With ArtPrize and (the city) becoming more hip, it’s like, ‘GRB, we’ve got to keep up.’