At age 14, Shelby Wierman already has a decade of dancing under her disciplined belt. As a 4-year-old in Chula Vista, California, she started taking a combination of ballet at tap at Neisha’s Dance Academy, but quickly knew the one route she didn’t want to pursue. “I realized I didn’t like tap because the noise bothered my ears,” Shelby laughs. She opted for the less cacophonous contemporary and jazz and continued to hone what she calls the core of her craft: ballet.
“I liked the other classes because they helped me move freely and express my body in a different way,” she says. But even at a young age, Shelby knew that her future was classical rather than contemporary. She set her sights on ballet and, at age 10, knew more than many adults three times her age: She knew what she wanted to be when she grew up—a ballerina—and she set her sights on achieving that goal.
“My parents put me in dance classes when I was young, and then when I was around 6 years old, I started to do martial arts as well,” she says. “I got my black belt in tae kwon do, but I just really liked to dance; I knew then that I wanted to get really strict with my training. I realized at age 10 that I wanted to be a professional and from then on, I think the discipline came naturally.”
Discipline is something Shelby possesses in spades. Auditioning for the Kirov Academy of Ballet’s summer intensive in Washington D.C., a professional dance school and in-house residence program for students in grades six through 12, Shelby left home and spent the summer training in an intense Russian program that initially challenged her.
“At first it was very difficult for me because I wasn’t used to my teacher’s training method, but slowly I started to improve and get better at the movements,” she said.
Shelby continued to improve and went on from Kirov to attend the Joffrey Ballet School’s summer intensive in Los Angeles. At age 13, she applied to the year-round program at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida. Accepted into the exclusive program, Shelby now resides year-round away from her home in California and spends three to five hours a day practicing ballet, point and partnering, training in her favorite Vaganova method—all while continuing to focus on her education to meet the school’s strict academic requirements.
Now a sophomore in the four-year program with her eyes on joining a professional company once she graduates, Shelby truly believes that all the hard work, intense training and time away from her family has shaped her into the talented young woman she is today.
“Dance has changed my life in so many ways,” she says.
“Because of dance, I am very mature and responsible and I feel I make smart decisions. Because of dance, I’ve learned how to always be prepared. Because of dance, I know what I want to do and I have a plan—and a backup plan in case I get injured. And because of dance, I’ve become so strong,” she concludes. “There are a lot of tough competitions and sometimes it’s hard to face the reality that you’re not always at your best, but you have to push yourself to get better. Because of dance, I’ve learned persistence and dedication and I’ve learned you can never give up.