Photo by Erin Baiano

Tatiana Melendez

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

Fast Facts

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

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