Dedicated to dance

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Like many young athletes, Isaiah Maness, 15, spends a lot of time working out. "Five days a week," he says. "At least."

And like a lot of other teens, this Barrington High School sophomore admits to enjoying his fair share of couch time. By any account, he's earned it.

Isaiah is a ballet dancer, and a very accomplished one at that. He's been studying classical ballet for 12 years, and training seriously for the last 5. His brother Ike, younger by one year, has been studying almost as long.

It was actually another Maness brother, their older brother Ian, who paved the way for his younger brothers' interest in dance. Ian also started dancing as a young child in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the family lived until just a few years ago. Unlike his brothers, Ian's interest turned more to football, and dance became a way for Ian to maintain flexibility and stamina while using a completely different set of muscles on the gridiron.

Although they have both played other sports from baseball to cross country at their schools, Isaiah and Ike have chosen to focus their efforts perfecting their craft at Ballet Prestige in Barrington. Fortunately, they love what they are doing—and their teachers, Zhanat Baidaralin and Vera Kurmasheva—are as impressed by their students' dedication as they are by their skills.

Baidaralin and Kurmasheva are internationally recognized ballet teachers and choreographers who have taught at the Dance Theater of Harlem and Rhode Island's own Festival Ballet, among others. Baidaralin received an advanced degree in choreography and production from the Russian Academy Department of Art Choreography in Moscow; his credits include producing the massive opening ceremony of the 20th Moscow Olympiad in 1980. Kurmasheva spent 20 years performing professionally before continuing her studies at the Kazakh State Academy of Arts in Classical Dance Instruction and Choreography.

Isaiah, it seems, is poised to follow in their footsteps.

Just this past summer, he was one of only 15 American high school ballet dancers, among hundreds who tried out, who traveled to Moscow as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) RAF & Bolshoi Way Program, a U.S. Department of State Program in collaboration with the Russian American Foundation and the internationally renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy of Russia.

The summer intensive served as an evaluation for Isaiah, who has been invited back to continue his education at the Bolshoi, a 240-year old institution that has produced some of the most accomplished dancers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Though both Maness boys enjoy music, and Isaiah admits it contributes to his skills with rhythm and timing, it is Ike who studies piano and admits that chorus is his favorite subject at school. Ever the diplomat, Isaiah refuses to pick one subject, though he is already showing aptitude in Russian.

The boys' mother Debra doesn't know the source of her sons' talents. Not a dancer herself ("I'm an engineer!," she laughs) she is nonetheless devoted to making sure they are able to take their passion as far as they choose to. While it was a little frightening sending her son all the way to Moscow, she couldn't be happier with the outcome. "He was in such a supportive and loving environment," Debra says. "It was a relief for him to come back with such great stories. It opens up your eyes, culturally. People everywhere want the same thing—what's best for their children."

Unlike some local studios that struggle to find boys to fill roles in their productions, Ballet Prestige has that well in hand. "If you don't have a boy," Kurmasheva says, "your production is in trouble. You need boys."

The shortage of boys in dance studios is much more pronounced in the United States. "In Russia, we have equal numbers of boys and girls in dance. The ballet profession is very prestigious, it is not just a hobby. And for Russians, it opened the gates to traveling around the world," she says. "It is very, very hard work. But once they get into it, for many dancers, the stage becomes an addiction."

Isaiah and Ike will be performing this Saturday in Ballet Prestige's annual performance of The Nutcracker, with Isaiah dancing the very challenging Pas De Deux with his partner, Yalith Axelson, another extremely talented and dedicated dancer at Ballet Prestige. The production is the result of many, many hours of work on the part of all the performers, something that is certainly appreciated by Kurmasheva. "I am so proud of all my students," she says.

For more information on Ballet Prestige and Saturday's performances, visit www.balletprestige.com.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.