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Tino Sauter, Beth Galyean and Taylor Edwards autographed their torn and tattered ballet shoes — one of the last pairs they will wear at the Conservatory of Dance & Theatre in Galax — to display them as memorabilia from now on in the office of dance instructor and studio owner Barbara Johnson.
As they prepare for one last production at the conservatory, they talked about how much they'll miss Galax and the dance studio as they pursue their passion for ballet at college and other intensive dance programs. They will leave in just a few weeks.
Sauter, Galyean and Edwards will each have principal roles in the conservatory's production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and “Carmina Burana,” to be held on Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Galax High School.
“It's bittersweet,” said Sauter of his last performance with the conservatory.
He has been offered full scholarships at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Pennsylvania, the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut and The Rock School in Philadelphia.
“I'm sad about leaving my friends here, but it's exciting to move on to a bigger city and full-time dance programs,” he said.
Sauter was also accepted into summer programs at the Houston Ballet in Texas, The Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., and the year-round high school program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.
“I am gratified that the training he received here at the conservatory has given him the foundation to pursue his dream,” said Johnson.
Sauter is a junior at Galax High School, but already has his future mapped out. He attended the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in New York City last summer, and this summer Sauter will attend The Rock School, a six-week intensive dance program and the Nutmeg Conservatory. He will train seven days a week at each program.
To finish off his high school career, he will attend a boarding school and study ballet with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
His senior year, Sauter plans to begin auditions with professional dance companies, such as the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Ballet, all in New York City.
“I just want to dance professionally as long as I can,” said Sauter. “Right now, I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but I feel like I'm ready for it.”
Sauter also has his vision set on opening his own dance studio in a metropolitan area, but he hopes to be a guest instructor at the conservatory in Galax and join in on some future productions.
Sauter, who wasn't at all interested in dance when he began, came to the conservatory just over two years ago when his dad signed him up for a jazz class. But landing a part in the conservatory's “Nutcracker” made him see a different side of dance, and the more he danced, the more he loved it.
Although he has only been dancing for a couple of years, his talent has landed him the starring role in seven productions.
Sauter said dancing with the conservatory has transformed his life. “Before, I was shy and quiet and holding back a lot. Now, I've become more expressive, more open-minded and people definitely know I'm in the room when I walk in.”
Edwards, 17, of Sparta, N.C., will graduate from high school this year and will attend the Atlanta Ballet in Georgia for the third time for a six-week advanced program this summer.
From there, Edwards will attend Salem College in Winston-Salem, majoring in arts management, and she has been accepted into the dance program there on a full scholarship.
“I'm kind of nervous, because I'm so used to being here where we know everybody and are like family,” said Edwards. “But I feel like Barbara has prepared me, so I know what to expect when I go to school.”
Edwards, who began dancing when she was four and has been at the conservatory since she was 12, has been in a dozen productions and has taken on six leading roles.
Like Sauter, she also envisions dancing professionally, and perhaps returning to teach at Johnson's conservatory — “if she'll let me,” Taylor said with a laugh.
“We all grew up together,” she said of close friends Galyean and Sauter. “But we're all going after something we love to do. Dancing is something I never want to give up.”
Galyean, 18, of Galax will graduate from Galax High School on June 11 and will attend the University of North Carolina School of the Arts for intensive dance training. She also has been accepted to Virginia Commonwealth University, where she will study with the Richmond Ballet.
At VCU, Galyean will study small business management. “After I graduate from college, I still want to get into a dance company, and I'll also have a degree in business, which is also something I enjoy,” she said.
“It's gong to be sad to leave here, but it will be fun to experience new things,” said Galyean.
Galyean said she and Sauter are so used to daily outings and then studying dance together every day, she might feel a little lost without the friends she has made at the conservatory.
“We spend as much time here, as any student would with a part-time job,” said Galyean. “We have photo shoots, rehearsals and productions. We're here every day.”
Galyean started dance when she was four and made her way to the conservatory when she was 14, landing four principal roles and performing in nine productions.
“You have to be dedicated to come and work every day,” said Galyean. “But if it's something you enjoy, it becomes your passion and you don't want to let go of it.”
Galyean said she is apprehensive about going off to college, but is ready to take a leap forward.
For each of them, it has been a wonderful journey that has prepared them for the next move in their dance careers, and they have each made several mistakes to learn from and to laugh about.
Sauter remembers forgetting part of his routine during the “Nutcracker,” but “I just started doing all of these jumps, and people cheered. No one knew,” he said. “It's a rush just to be backstage and getting ready. It's a good kind of stress.”
Edwards recalls getting her dress caught in a prop piece during the production of “Pirates of Tortuga.”
Galyean has also forgotten her dance routine during a production, but decided to stand in a pose in the center of the stage, and the audience was clueless of her mistake.
“It's all the little mistakes that no one knows about that makes the performance,” said Sauter. “It's never a dull moment.”
Between all the chaos, inside jokes and the stress amongst his friends, Sauter said he and fellow dancers Edwards and Galyean have become really close since they share the same passion.
“We have gone through the same thing that most don't understand,” said Sauter. “They say, 'why would you do all that for dance?' We love it.”
They have put in hours upon hours perfecting their technique and making sacrifices — and to them, it has all been worth it.
Sauter said they also have dance instructors to thank for their talent — Johnson and Lori Edwards.
Sauter said he felt that Lori Edwards pushed him to strive harder, and Johnson has become a good friend.
“When I came here, [Johnson] made me feel welcomed, always helped me, and when I had a stressful day, I could talk to her,” said Sauter. “She showed me what I could do.”
For Galyean and Taylor Edwards, Johnson has become a second mother, pushing them towards their goals.
“It'll be like we're leaving two moms instead of one,” said Galyean. “I'm going to miss everybody here.”
Also slated to attend summer dance programs are Whatley Ozer, 12, of Galax, who will attend The Rock School and the Miami City Ballet; and Christine McLennan, 14, of Galax, who will attend The Rock School.
“Of the five conservatory students that auditioned for summer intensives, all five have been accepted into distinguished programs,” said Johnson. “I am very proud of my students, as they have had to compete with dancers throughout the U.S. for the few spots available at these prestigious dance schools.”
• The Conservatory of Dance & Theatre will perform “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and “Carmina Burana” on Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Galax High School. Reserved Seating is $8, and general admission is $5 for adults and $3 for those under 18.