Rather than while away hours at the mall or the pool like most girls their age, a pair of teenage sisters from Fairfax Station chose to spend the majority of their summer dancing. But forget Selena Gomez and the Cupid Shuffle—Brittany, 14, and Caitie Belle Yevoli, 13, trained for five weeks alongside students from around the world as part of The Washington School of Ballet (TWSB) “Summer Intensive” program.
The lack of typical sunny socializing may sound like a sacrifice, but for Caitie Belle, it was just the opposite. “I would rather be here,” she said. “When I come here, I’m in a whole different world. I love it here.”
From June 24 through July 26, the girls trained Monday through Friday, with classes taking place at the school’s Northwest D.C. campus between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. The sisters dance at the school during the academic year—also between five and seven days a week, depending on proximity to a performance—but their progress is limited by having only two-and-a-half hours each day to train, according to TWSB Director Kee-Juan Han.
“The experience is unique,” Han said of the Summer Intensive. “During the school year, they’re not able to spend a whole day dancing. In the summer, they can do things like work on a piece solidly, each day, for two hours.”
The instruction this summer was focused primarily on ballet, but with additional workshops on flamenco, jazz and modern dance. The program culminated at the end of the five weeks with two days of performances for parents, friends and relatives.
Dancers like Brittany and Caite Belle see the intensive training as an opportunity to get a leg up on the coming academic year, and helping advance them toward making a career out of their craft.
“In a professional school, this is what they do,” said Han. “The whole day: It’s all on dance. The academics play a very, very small part.”
The school’s partnership with the Washington Ballet (TWB) helped make this summer program a truly professional environment. Program faculty included Septime Webre, artistic director, and David Palmer, associate artistic director of TWB, along with TWB company dancers Aurora Dickie and Luis R. Torres.
“This school has such a great advantage, because we’re attached to a company,” said TWSB coordinator and faculty member Kristy Windom. “For students, and parents, they see this professional life around them while they’re dancing.”
As much as the Yevoli sisters would love to trade school for dance altogether, “I can’t imagine them not going to school,” said Jacquie Yevoli, the girls’ mother. “For us [the Summer Intensive] is perfect. They get to train all academic year in the evening, then in the summer, they get to focus on just dance. You don’t have to give up your middle school or high school experience, as if they were to go to a professional training school.”
In the fall, Brittany will attend Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School and Caitie Belle will attend St. Mary’s Catholic School in Alexandria.
The girls first took ballet lessons through the Fairfax County Parktakes program. Brittany led off at age 3, then her sister followed suit. “I used to join in,” said Caitie Belle, “but I had no idea what I was doing.”
Advancing from the toddlers’ classes, the girls ended up taking lessons with former Joffrey Ballet company member and Fairfax Station resident Susan Blazy. It was Blazy who first encouraged their mother to cultivate their talent by enrolling them in TWSB.
“I didn’t really foresee it becoming their major activity,” said Jacquie. “As time went on, it became clear this was truly their passion. Slowly but surely, the other things got squished out.”
Four years ago marked the sisters’ first intensive program with TWSB. “The first summer, it was really good,” said Brittany. “It wasn’t all day; we were still doing swimming that year. The next year, we did all day, and it was even better. It is tiring, but it’s worth it.”
This enthusiastic attitude and strong work ethic of both Brittany and Caitie Belle have helped them get the most out of the summer program, according to their instructors.
“They’re very motivated, self-motivated,” said Stephanie Walz, TWSB faculty. “That really helps their progress. They’re talented, lyrical dancers—beautiful girls. Really all-around, positive girls.”
This summer, the sisters found themselves assigned to the same level. “It was an interesting dynamic because the younger sister could watch and follow the older sister,” said TWSB coordinator and faculty Kristy Windom. “It’s just a life lesson. Brittany stepped it up and really became a leader, and that’s exactly what I wanted her to do.”
Though not all students are destined for a professional career, Walz likes the girls’ chances. “I’d say they’re doing very well,” she said. “They’re on a good track for that. They definitely have talent and potential, beauty—a lot of things going for them.”
But for now, they get to go back to just being teenage girls for the rest of the summer.
“It’s kind of sad,” said Caitie Belle on wrapping up the summer program. “In a way I’m like, ‘Yay, I get to relax.’ But I’m going to miss it. I’m going to wake up on Monday morning and be like, ‘I’m ready to go to ballet.’”