Paly alumna signs with prestigious ballet company

Amy Leung, Author

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Palo Alto High School alumnus does a split leap in a studio. Photo by Oliver Henry Endahl.

Palo Alto High School alumna Jennifer Wang does a split leap in a dance studio. Photo by Oliver Henry Endahl.

Jennifer Wang, a Palo Alto High School alumna who graduated last year, recently achieved her life-long dream when she signed with the prestigious company Joffrey Ballet.

“I’ve been dancing since I was six years old, mostly all ballet,” Wang said.

The road to her dream has not been an easy one. Wang says she attended 20 or more hours of dance classes a week, depending on rehearsals.

“I was most recently trained in [the style of] Vaganova, which is Russian, at City Ballet School in San Francisco,” Wang said.

Kenneth Patsel, the director at City Ballet School of San Francisco, said he and the artistic director Galina Alexandrova first noticed Wang’s talent when she attended a summer intensive five years ago at the age of 13.

“Galina immediately spotted the potential in Jen and asked Jen, ‘What do you want to do with ballet?’” Patsel said. “She said, ‘Of course I’d like to be a professional dancer one day,’ and Galina said, ‘I think you have what it takes if you’re trained properly.’”

Jennifer Wang dances a pas de deux in the City Ballet of San Francisco's Spring Showcase 2011. Photo by Alexander Reneff-Olson.

Jennifer Wang dances a pas de deux in the City Ballet of San Francisco’s Spring Showcase 2011. Photo by Alexander Reneff-Olson.

Wang proved herself to be an exceptional dancer.

“Jen was cast as one of our youngest Sugar Plums ever in Nutcracker,” Patsel said. “So at age 14, she danced a leading role in the Nutcracker.”

According to Patsel, Wang won the Senior Classical Competition in the Youth America Grand Prix, a prominent ballet competition. She was invited to go to New York as a finalist.

Alexandrova had danced with Ashley Wheater, the director of the Joffrey Ballet, according to Patsel. Using her connection, Alexandrova called Wheater to let him know that she had a spectacular student.

“Galina called up Ashley because she thought Jen was a very special student,” Patsel said.

“She did an audition with Ashley, and at the time it didn’t look like he had any contracts,” Patsel said. “Three months went by from the time she auditioned. Apparently what was happening in the meantime was Ashley was negotiating with his board to get another dancer, and as it turned it out there was a dancer that left the company, thus leaving open one contract.”

At that time, Wang had already been enrolled at Harvard. However, Harvard has a rule that if a student attends one semester, he or she may take an indefinite leave, according to Patsel.

“They would’ve normally started already in September, but Ashley, knowing that Jen needed to get that semester in the books, held the contract for Jen, which is almost unheard of, so that she could go to one semester and is going to start in January after they finish their Nutcracker,” Patsel said.

Despite a professional career being her dream, Wang still feels a little nervous.

“At Joffrey, I think I’ll be intimidated because there will be quite a few older and way more experienced dancers than me,” Wang said. “Also, I’m not as experienced in contemporary, and Joffrey does a decent amount of that, so hopefully I’ll be adaptable enough to fit in.”

On the other hand, Wang is also looking forward to dancing with the Joffrey Ballet after years of hard work.

“I’m so excited to be dancing professionally because it’s my dream and I loved performing,” Wang said. “I’ll have the chance to probably work with a lot of really amazing and interesting people and will hopefully have more opportunities to perform, so I’m really excited.”