The Next Alicia Alonso?

November 28, 2001

Did you catch “Dancing With The Stars” this week? Normally, I wouldn’t say the ballroom extravaganza is a must-see for ballet dancers. But the show’s latest episode featured Brilynn Rakes, a talented 17-year-old student who trains at the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy in California—and also happens to be legally blind. Born with a birth defect known as cone dystrophy, her eyes aren’t able to filter out light, causing everything to appear 20 times brighter. She also suffers from nystagmus, which causes her eyes to shake constantly, and she is color blind on top of it all. The most difficult part of dancing with these setbacks is finding her balance, since our bodies rely on vision to help us center ourselves. When Rakes first started ballet, it took her over a year to master a single turn. Now, in addition to landing opportunities like partnering with Derek Hough on national television, she’s been scooping up medals at competitions, most recently placing in the top 12 in the classical dance category at the Hartford, CT semi-finals of Youth America Grand Prix last month. Just goes to show how far determination can take you.