At first glance, Ballet Hispanico second-company member Stefanie Roper looks as though she has been dancing since she could walk. Her perfectly arched feet and petite, athletic frame accentuate a particular fluidity of movement that only the most seasoned dancer tends to be able to harness. But Roper didn’t follow the conventional ballerina’s path, where training from age 5 is the norm.
The Utah native first encountered dance as a freshman at Utah Valley University in Orem. Roper’s pride in her Colombian and Venezuelan heritage led her to audition for a cultural-folklore dance company. Within a couple of months, she was choreographing, producing and directing most performances.
Two years later, at age 20, Roper’s need for elective courses emboldened her to sign up for a ballet class. The self-proclaimed perfectionist quickly excelled despite an intimidating instructor and lack of ballet vernacular. After completing an associate’s degree at UVU, she decided to major in dance with an emphasis in ballet, and spent the following three years of school catching up. “I had to double up on dance classes each semester so I could stay on track,” she says.
Her daily schedule caused Roper to develop shin splints—so severe that, at one point, her physical therapist recommended she quit. She also had to contend with her flexible feet. The blessing became a curse when she began pointe a year after her initial introduction to ballet. She struggled to hold herself up. To develop ankle strength, she would spend hours after class doing foot-strengthening exercises.
After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in 2015, Roper applied to audition for Ballet Hispanico. Though she wasn’t chosen to audition for the main company, her determination culminated in a three-day audition blitz through New York City, where she auditioned for BHdos. A week later, she had a contract with the Latin-fused ballet studio company. “Her commitment and passion drew me in completely,” BHdos rehearsal director Nicholas Villeneuve says.
Roper quickly found herself dancing alongside artists with decades more experience than she had. But while the 26-year-old is committed to building her confidence along with her technique, she knows her strength lies in her tenacity and love for dance. “The difference between a professional and an advanced technique dancer is the passion, and I have that,” she says.
Roper has performed on some of New York City’s most prestigious stages, but some of her greatest fulfillment comes from participating in BHdos’ outreach at local schools.
“Misty Copeland and Martha Graham started dancing later in life, and without those people I would never have thought, ‘She did it. I can too,’ ” Roper says. “I want to change the life of that little girl or college student who’s terrified of going into the professional world, and tell them, ‘You got this. Don’t give up on your dreams.’ ”
Guilty pleasure: “Chips Ahoy!, the original, non-chewy. I am the ultimate cookie monster.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I envision myself and what I want to see from the audience.”
Fitness regimen: “I’ll go to the gym and take a class, do free weights, dumbbells, Thera-Bands or cardio.”