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Youmans: Dancer from Fountain Valley living a dream

Jamie Kopit, 18, who was trained at the Southland Ballet Academy, now dances with the storied American Ballet Theatre company.

February 22, 2012|By Heather Youmans
  • Jamie Kopit, a dancer with the New York-based American Ballet Theater Co., trained in Fountain Valley at the Southland Ballet Academy.
Jamie Kopit, a dancer with the New York-based American… (HB Independent )

Since its founding in 1940, the esteemed American Ballet Theatre has appeared in a total of 132 cities, 42 countries and all 50 states.

And throughout its 72-year history, the New York-based company has commissioned works by all of the great choreographic minds of the 20th century: George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp, among others.

Now, at the tender age of 18, Fountain Valley ballet dancer Jamie Kopit can call the ABT her home.

Kopit began dancing at the age of four at Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley, shortly after her oldest sister enrolled in classes there.

"She actually really liked tap dancing and it wasn't until she was 12 that she really took ballet more seriously," her mother, Diane Steinberg, said in a phone interview. "We had no idea that she would want to do ballet."

Until 2009, Kopit studied for 12 years under long-time SBA instructor Salwa Rizkalla. In 1988, Rizkalla founded the studio's Festival Ballet Theatre Co., which has since become one of the nation's springboards for prima ballerinas. Pointe Magazine has ranked Southland Ballet Academy in the top seven studios nationwide that are cultivating top talent.

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Over the years, Kopit danced a range of roles with FBT at The Irvine Barclay Theatre and various local venues. It was these shows that helped her get performance experience and with time, she eventually worked her way up to principal roles like that of "Clara" in "The Nutcracker."

"Jamie was a very special dancer, a unique dancer," Rizkalla said. "She had a lot of agility, was a really hard worker, and had determination from a young age. From the beginning, she was determined to be successful and to be a ballerina."

During Kopit's early training, Rizkalla saw the promise in Kopit's ability and recalled recognizing her "extremely nice lines," "incredible determination" and patience.

Soon enough, Rizkalla started coaching Kopit privately for the Youth America Grand Prix — a worldwide scholarship program and ballet competition. Oftentimes, renowned ballet school directors in attendance will offer scholarships or contracts to stand-out dancers.

"I used to work with her two hours a day each week to prepare her for competition and she would just work through the hours non-stop," Rizkalla said.

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