Palisadian Dancer Stella Grynberg Concludes Her Time with Westside Ballet of Santa Monica
By CHARLIE KAPINOS | Intern
Palisadian Stella Grynberg, who has been dancing with Westside Ballet of Santa Monica since the age of 6, may be completing her senior year under unusual circumstances—but she described her entire journey with the school as “supernatural,” “arduous” and “passionate.”
One year ago, in response to COVID-19 restrictions, the nonprofit pre-professional company canceled live show rehearsals and preparations for its Spring Performance. The “longest-running ‘Nutcracker’” in Southern California had to pivot to a digital platform, and the company also hosted a drive-in film.
“I felt that last year’s unconventional performances of the drive-in film ‘Grace and Grit’ and the digital presentation of ‘The Nutcracker Workshop’ illustrated my burning passion and love for ballet that I would not let die down during this pandemic,” Grynberg shared. “With the grit I have gained from 11 years of ballet training, I refused to stop dancing during the lockdown. Dancing in a mask is second nature now.”
The Santa Monica Canyon resident and Archer School for Girls senior has been dancing ballet since she was 5 years old. Grynberg has performed in shows like Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Fosse’s “Cabaret,” as well as 10 years of the annual Westside performance of “The Nutcracker.”
Even with an evident undying love and affection for the art, her journey didn’t start like that; in fact, she said it was quite the opposite.
“[My mother] took me to some ballet classes [at Westside Ballet] and I never ended up wanting to do it because my mom couldn’t watch,” Grynberg said. “It was very serious, and I didn’t like that at first.”
Nevertheless, there was something else that she said held a special place in her heart, keeping her interest in ballet alive. Her mother took her to see a local company’s production of “The Nutcracker” and she loved it.
After going through a couple of classes and seeing “The Nutcracker” for the third time, Grynberg said she couldn’t get it out of her head.
Her passion for the holiday-time show grew, and she realized that in order to be a part of it, she needed to start being serious about her training. She has been at Westside Ballet ever since.
“It’s definitely hard and time consuming,” Grynberg said, “but what always kept me going was ‘The Nutcracker.’”
As Grynberg has grown up with Westside Ballet, she shared that she has found a home and a sense of community among the teachers and fellow dancers. Some of Grynberg’s closest friends are at Westside, and she said she considers them her sisters.
“You see each other in every single up and down,” she shared about the bond between dancers in the program. “They just really understand who you are.”
She said she believes there’s something truly special about ballet dancers because they’re grounded, caring and motivated, which she feels has rubbed off on her and made her a better dancer, as well as a more rounded human being.
Her years of establishing discipline, a sense of community and motivation was truly put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Westside Ballet has been offering a virtual and in-person hybrid program in order to keep the dancers in practice.
When the lockdown began, Grynberg said she immediately got to work to prepare for the year ahead. She ordered the necessary supplies and created her own at-home “studio.”
“When the lockdown began last March, I ordered a square of Marley floor, pushed the living room couch into the hallway and created my own studio,” Grynberg shared.
At first, she said she felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the abrupt change of location, noting the “floor was slippery,” the barre broke with too much pressure and Grynberg’s leg would hit the wall every so often.
“The circumstances were not ideal, but when I heard the piano music through the Zoom screen, I felt a feeling of normality and reassurance: a very rare yet essential feeling during such unprecedented times,” Grynberg shared.
As the community begins to open back up, Grynberg looked back at the past year with a positive mindset and said she believes great progress was made in her dance journey. She was able to focus on herself and work as much as she needed to until she mastered what she was working on.
Over the course of the year, she improved her technique, and without some of the traditional ballet equipment available at her home studio, she grew physically stronger. Through the clear and present obstacles, she found resilience, which allowed her to continue to work on her art and grow as a dancer.
Grynberg shared she is beginning to look toward her future, with college plans already in place. She is set to start at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia this coming fall, with plans to major in cognitive science.
Grynberg said she hopes to understand and analyze human behavior, the brain and thought processes. For her, cognitive science is a perfect blend of all her interests: mathematics, psychology, neuroscience and biology.
“I am a big mathematician and keen on scientific research,” Grynberg shared. “I got a scientific award in eighth grade for creating a detector for Alzheimer’s disease. I hold many leadership roles in my school, such as a math and science tutor for all grades, a leader of the peer support team, which balances the mental health within [Archer], and I am on the dance leadership team.”
Last summer, Grynberg completed the Summer High School Intensive in Next-Generation engineering program, where she had the opportunity to work under Professor Richard Roberts Chemical Engineering Lab at USC.
“Through this incredible experience, I was able to participate in COVID-19 research,” she recalled. “It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to participate in something with such high demand and importance in the current world.”
While she may not be studying dance in college, Grynberg will undoubtedly take what Westside and the art of ballet as a whole has taught her and apply it to future studies, careers and life choices.
“Graduating from Westside is bittersweet,” she shared. “It is very hard for me to picture my life without going to Westside every day … however, I am not leaving Westside, because I will take everything I have learned with me. Westside taught me the importance of and success that can come from determination, commitment, persistence and passion. I will take all of those qualities into my next steps.”
For her final performance with Westside Ballet, Grynberg danced the solo in George Balanchine’s “Sylvia: Pas de Deux” with guest dancer Chasen Greenwood during a private show for friends and family that took place in mid-May. She was also featured in moments of Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” set to music from the opera “Don Sebastien.”
The performance will be available to the public in a film version, slated to be released June 26.
“I know that no matter how unfamiliar my life will be with changes from college and my future, Westside will always provide me with a sense of security,” Grynberg said. “Westside was and still is a safe space for me.”
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