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As 17-year-old Tino Sauter of Galax pursues his dreams to become a professional dancer, many fellow dancers and their parents and community members are eager to know what he’s up to next.
“I’m always getting lots of messages, especially on Facebook, from people asking what I’m up to and where I’m going,” said Sauter, who started out in ballet class at the Galax Conservatory of Dance & Theatre four years ago. “I want to let people back home know what I’m doing these days.”
At age 15, Sauter left home to attend the intensive dance program at Nutmeg Conservatory in Torrington, Conn., where he received a full scholarship. Sauter is one of about 90 students at Nutmeg.
Life revolves around dance for the Nutmeg senior. After three hours of academics in the morning, the rest of the day is spent studying dance, learning dance routines and perfecting technique. He studies different styles, including modern and contemporary, and there’s even classes dedicated to men’s jumps, nutrition and pilates.
Sauter sometimes wishes he was outside playing in the sunshine and spending time with friends, as most teens his age are able to do. Among the sacrifices, Sauter has endured the physical pain, struggles and injuries that dancers typically go through.
He suffered two incomplete stress fractures in his feet after the first three shows of Nutmeg’s “Nutcracker” in 2011, and saw a doctor between shows for shock therapy.
Even so, Sauter endured the pain through more performances, landing roles as the Snow King, Prince, Arabian and Cavalier and host of the party scene.
“With all this training, I know it will result in a career in dance. I’m here because I want to be a dancer. I realize what I want — and that’s to be a dancer.”
The hardest part for him is being away from home and not spending time with friends and family and not being able to see little brother Jaisen grow up. It was difficult to go from the slow pace of Galax to the busy world of dance, he said.
“I’m happy here, but when I have a break, it’s great to get back to the familiar,” he said. “Sometimes I go days without talking to friends or family back home because I’m busy.”
Sauter plans to dance for a professional ballet company, and to become a paid professional dancer. He has been accepted to a couple of ballet companies, and he continues his search for the perfect fit.
Auditioning is an obstacle for dancers. Each audition costs nearly $40, with only a small chance of being accepted.
“These auditions get very expensive because of the commuting by train to New York City for auditions, meals, audition fees and subway fare,” he said.
Recently, Sauter was among 200 people who auditioned for the Kansas City Ballet. Of the 200 that showed up to audition, two were chosen.
He made it through several rounds and was among the top 20 male ballet dancers. But he was not accepted, something that is a challenge of the ballet world.
“It’s easier for male dancers, because there’s very few of us,” said Sauter. “So they’re really looking at us more. The ballet world is very competitive.”
Sauter said he’s seeking a dance company where he can dedicate most of his time to touring and dancing in different shows. And the dream of being with New York City Ballet is at the top of his list.
“When I was at the Conservatory in Galax, dancing was something I wanted to do,” said Sauter. “Now I realize it’s something I have to do. I didn’t choose it. It chose me.”
Sauter has his dad to thank for pushing him into ballet. He wasn’t even interested in dance until four years ago, but his dad signed him up for jazz class anyway.
And after performing a small role in the Galax Conservatory’s “Nutcracker” in 2007, he had an instant attraction to ballet. He landed leading roles in “Cats,” “Nutcracker” and several other productions.
“I’m very in love with ballet. Coming here, I realize it’s me. Now that it’s a part of my life, I can’t not do it.”
After Sauter’s first year of ballet, Galax Conservatory owner and instructor Barbara Johnson urged him to attend the prestigious Joffrey Ballet dance-intensive program in New York City. He was one of very few accepted.
To raise $1,000 for his expenses in New York City, he sold flowers at the Galax Farmers’ Market. After an article was published in The Gazette about Sauter’s goals to make it as a dancer, a reader walked up to Sauter on the street and wrote out a check for $1,000.
He has since studied dace at North Carolina School of the Arts and The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. He has had a couple of other sponsors and many supporters backing his dreams.
And a couple of weeks ago, he was accepted to the summer program at Bolshoi Ballet in Russia.
While at Joffrey, a friend had told him about Nutmeg’s dance program. Sauter sent off an audition tape and received an acceptance letter two weeks later.
“I saw that the school and the atmosphere here is just incredible,” Sauter said. “They showed that they cared about their students, and it really pushed me to come here.”
On Sundays, he and his friends — who have become his family — take trips to New York to see shows and go to movies.
During the week, most academic classes are online, where he learns the basics, along with current events, career planning and psychology.
When Sauter retires his career as a dancer, he plans to become a clinical psychologist. Next year, he will begin studying psychology part-time at college.
“I want to be able to help children and give back,” said Sauter. “And I’ve always found the human mind and behavior fascinating.”
Despite challenges, sacrifices, injuries and struggles, it’s all worth it to Sauter.
“You can do anything you set your mind to, if it’s ballet, football or knitting. Love and believe in yourself.”
Sauter will be back in Galax in the spring to perform with the Galax Conservatory. He is working with Johnson to put together the performance.