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Dancing for Life...

Despite being married for almost 15 years, I have found you never can know everything about the other person.

This season, the stars aligned and the logo (Jennifer Vecchio) decided to do a pilot pointe program. It was because of this, we all got to know a much different side of her-and I got to hear a bunch of new stories. Interestingly enough, the 3 time national grand champion competition choreographer (who has been known to push the boundaries on the competition circuit) never actually competed as a dancer. Her first love has always been ballet.

She had been dancing since the age of 6 at a local recreational dance studio and had several friends enrolled in the Brae Crest School of Ballet. Brae Crest is the first step in the natural progression of becoming a company dancer for the premier ballet company in the state, appropriately name The State Ballet of Rhode Island. Every year however, The State Ballet holds open auditions. At the age of 14, a young Miss Jen attended the open auditions and remembers them vividly. Coming from a studio with no dress code, the logo had no idea what to expect. She showed up with her hair in a side pony (instead of the preferred bun) immediately distinguishing herself from the pack. She had taken ballet and done some barre work in her previous dance experience but nothing prepared her for the lesson she was about to receive.

Her audition number was lucky 13. She entered the room as an unknown before 12 board of director members and the incomparable Herci Marsden. The audition consisted of barre work, adagio, center floor work and a bunch of other skills I can not pronounce. It lasted between 2-3 hours. She fulfilled all of the audition requirements to the best of her ability. She packed her bag up and left that day to await a response by mail. Jenny, as she was referred to by Miss Marsden, patiently awaited the results.

Her father, a postal worker, had kept his eye out for that very fateful piece of mail and dropped it on the kitchen table one night. "Jenny" refused to open it and asked if he could read it to her. He didn't get very far past "Congratulations, you have been accepted...". a lot of screaming and running around the house ensued as she remembers but from that second, the logo made the decision to make dance her life. Someone had seen something in her at that audition with no make up, a side pony and very little technique. Someone gave her a chance and she was not going to waste it. It is this the very attitude she has still today-always trying to prove herself-and it all started at that open audition.

Jen threw everything she had into these years, as she was well behind in the technical aspect of ballet. She remembers being corrected early and often, always working to improve. Class was difficult by design but even more so for her. Having not trained with Brae Crest, a lot of ground had to be made up. Soon though, she began to leave her mark. Working harder, rehearsing, never missing practice, staying late, training at home, whatever it took. Eventually, she made soloist and had some very memorable performances.

I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 performance of Coppelia at the Park Theatre with my wife last month. It was the first time she had attended since 1993 and I saw a side of her I've never witnessed. I've seen this before with many dancers backstage at Dance Theatre, but I've never seen this nervous/excited energy from Jen. It was literally like she was going to perform. I remember waiting in the lobby and she said to me somewhat shakily: "OMG Miss Ana is coming over here".

This reinforced how important dance becomes in a dancer's life. I have seen students over the years afraid to talk to Miss Jen. I've even threatened to go get her if they keep acting up in the lobby. Today, I saw the roles reversed. The respect my wife has for all of the Marsdens is immeasurable. She made herself what she is because of that one decision, that one day at an open audition. She was given a chance and she hasn't stop fighting since. It was an honor to see the teacher and student from a much different perspective and it makes it crystal clear how dance, structure and commitment can shape a person. These times are some of the most memorable of our lives. Thank you to Miss Marsden for giving our director her chance, her drive, and her fight. First starting at the age of 6 and on the brink of year 50 on this planet, she truly has made dance her life.

Jennifer Vecchio is the founder and artistic director for Dance Theatre of Rhode Island located in Cumberland

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