Tatiana Melendez's powerful presence isn't just evident onstage: Even her Instagram videos of ballet-class combos show her ability to sell it. But unlike most budding ballerinas, this 16-year-old learned how to command the stage early on as a comp kid, training at All American Dance Factory in Tampa, FL, and spending her weekends refining her performance skills at conventions and competitions. She was a successful comp kid, too: The judges awarded her first runner-up at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2012 and 2014. There was something about ballet, though, that kept pulling at her. “The comp scene is so much fun, and you're really dancing for yourself," she says. “I met great people at NYCDA who became my family. But I loved the structure and precision of ballet." After testing her ballet chops at the World Ballet Competition in 2011 and 2013—where she won gold and silver, respectively—Tatiana enrolled full-time at the Houston Ballet Academy in August 2015.
Now, she's all ballet, all the time. Her schedule at HBA is intense: Each day starts with a one-and-a-half-hour ballet class, followed by pointe, variation or pas de deux classes, and then a session of either modern or contemporary. “You have to be prepared for anything and everything," she says. But that variety is ideal for a dancer like Tatiana, who enjoys exploring different styles.
Tatiana's thankful for the lessons she learned on competition stages—lessons that are now paving her way to a successful ballet career. “Competitions helped my performance abilities so much," she says. “They taught me how to let myself go while dancing. Now I'm able to remember that feeling in a ballet context. I can tune out the world and just perform."
“Tatiana is grounded, genuine and humble to the core. She doesn't let any of the accolades she's received over the years affect her desire to improve." —Terri Howell, owner/director of All American Dance Factory
Birthday: September 27, 1999
Dance crushes: Maria Kochetkova, Natalia Osipova and Roberto Bolle
Favorite thing in her dance bag: “My Rubik's Cube! I do it all the time during breaks."
Hidden talent: “Drawing, especially cartoons and cartoon characters."
Nicknames: “Tati, Tater Tot and Michi (my mom has called me that since I was a baby!)"
Adagio or petit allégro? “I love jumps, but I'm more of a grand allégro kind of person—so, adagio!"
Favorite ballet: William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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Liz Imperio teaching at Hollywood Vibe, Courtesy of Hollywood Vibe
It's an increasingly common scenario: A talented dancer wins big at a competition, is offered an assistantship with a famous faculty member, and ends up leaving her hometown studio to travel with a convention. Convention-hopping has obvious benefits. Every event generates new content for dancers to post on social media, gives them a better shot at ending up on their favorite choreographers' accounts, lets them learn from the best of the best, and helps them make valuable connections. "Traveling is a great way for dancers to gain admirers around the country," says Jen Jarnot, owner of Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Thornton, CO. "That's something every dancer craves." So it's no surprise that weekend FOMO has been blazing through studios like wildfire.
But is this jet-setter lifestyle really the most effective road to take? Can weekends of dancing with top talent truly replace the bread and butter of daily work at your home studio? The answer, according to most industry experts, is no. We asked five pros to explain why.