Petite, rosy-cheeked and quick to break into a smile, Dominique Larose looks every bit a regular 15-year-old. As she starts across the floor in grand allégro, however, the shy droop of her head suddenly unfolds to a regal length. Larose’s upper body lifts and her back arches into pliant arabesques. Her flexible extensions only enhance the impression of gazelle-like grace. A student at Ayako School of Ballet in Belmont, California, Larose seems to shed any adolescent coltishness with her poise and calmly focused concentration.
That focus was an asset last January, when Larose was one of the youngest dancers to compete in Switzerland’s prestigious Prix de Lausanne. After performing a variation from La Bayadère and a solo from Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, Larose was offered a three-year scholarship to the Zurich University of the Arts—an opportunity she plans to pursue.
Larose liked that Lausanne lacked the pressure-cooker atmosphere of other competitions. “I felt like we didn’t have to be competitive with each other,” Larose says, noting that she stays in touch with friends she made. “It was like everyone had the opportunity to be a winner.”
Larose wasn’t all that serious about dance when she started studying at the Ayako School nine years ago, only taking one class a week. But everything changed one summer when director Ayako Takahashi asked Larose to replace another dancer at a competition in Las Vegas. “She practiced and practiced all by herself. She had so much motivation,” Takahashi recalls. “After the competition, it was like she was suddenly inspired.”
Now, a typical day finds Larose leaving the house by 7:15 am for high school, where she immerses herself in math, science and French until 3 pm. Then it’s off to the studio for ballet, modern and pointe classes, plus rehearsals if the competition ensemble has an upcoming performance.
Located in a business park just off the freeway, Ayako is modestly scaled. Dance trophies jumbled on sagging shelves line the walls of the slightly industrial-feeling studios. Young students aren’t pressured into a heavy schedule, but Takahashi and her staff willingly put in extra hours to coach the most serious dancers, like Larose, for major events. Students can also audition for the competition ensemble, which gives them opportunities to work with professionals like Oakland Ballet choreographer and interim director Michael Lowe, who teaches at the school.
“Dominique can do a lot of things already,” observes Lowe. “She has such a wonderful lyrical, legato quality and phenomenal feet and extensions, but she’s still finding things out for herself. I think she’s not even aware yet of the extent of her facility or her potential.”
Check out a great video of Dominique performing here!
At A Glance:
Ayako School of Ballet
Director: Ayako Takahashi, former principal with Tokyo City Ballet Company and Matsuyama Ballet Company
Technique Taught: Vaganova
Classes Offered: Ballet technique, pointe, variations, modern, jazz, character. There is also a competition team and Takahashi directs the associated Peninsula Youth Ballet.
Number of Students: 250
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre, Ballet San Jose, Oakland Ballet, and ODC/Dance, among others
Focus: With a foundation rooted in Vaganova, Takahashi’s school focuses on correct technique and emotional as well as physical development. Takahashi believes in challenging dancers, but also emphasizes the health and well-being of her students.