Cheryl Pompeo, the head of Oglebay Institute's School of Dance, nods her head in approval of the focused and self-motivated effort being demonstrated by a young ballet dancer on the fine points of a series of classical ballet steps.
Her level of concentration never changes or wanders.
The dancer is 14-year old St. Clairsville resident Kalista J'lyse Kafana, daughter of Jay and Kimberlee Kafana, and she is a dancer about to take a giant step in the direction of a professional dance career.
Kalista J’lyse Kafana, 14, daughter of Jay and Kimberlee Kafana of St. Clairsville, has been accepted into Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Pre-Professional Division High School Program for 2013-2014. The school is recognized as one of the nation’s finest for dance education and training.
"Kalista J'lyse Kafana has been accepted into Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's Pre-Professional Division High School Program for 2013-2014. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's School is recognized as one of the nation's finest schools for dance education and training. The pre-professional division is the keystone of the school, training the next generation of professional dancers. It is the official training Institution of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre," was the message carried in an announcement the young dancer was able to share with friends and family about this opportunity.
On Sept. 3 - just a few days away - J'lyse begins the next exciting part of her dance education.
That morning, she will officially join the Class of 2017 of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School's Pre-Professional Division's High School Program.
It is one of the most elite such programs in the nation. any hope to audition for just a few of the annual openings.
Few are invited to audition, and fewer still are awarded a place in the closed class rosters.
Kafana is one of the very small number of young dancers asked to join the freshman class.
There will be plenty of long days spent in dance classes and in those focused on traditional studies. Kafana seems to revel in every educational opportunity - whether focused on dance or academics, she studies, works hard and she excels.
Outside the dance studio, her focused nature immediately gives way to a broad and light-hearted smile - the type that a parent dreams of seeing on their child's face on a carefree afternoon.
She has a ready and genuine smile to share that clearly starts in her heart and is easily fueled by a love of life and passion to enjoy all things of beauty whether in the dance studio or outside of it.
Since the age of 14 months, J'lyse has been a part of the dance school environment and the close-knit family at Oglebay Institute's School of Dance at the Stifel Fine Arts Center on National Road in Wheeling.
At age 14, she is now leaving the familiar environment of the local dance studio where her mother works and where she has literally grown from a toddler into a young dancer with a very real opportunity to live out an experience most can only dream of happening to them: growing up and becoming a ballerina.
It has been the solid dance education the St. Clairsville girl has received locally from Cheryl Pompeo of Stifel and through the various intensive seasonal workshops she has taken part in at every turn throughout her dance studies there that helped her skills and developing potential be recognized as of high enough caliber to be deserving of an invitation to fill one of the limited openings in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's program.
"J'lyse has danced with Oglebay Institute since she was 14 months old, which was long before I ever actually accepted toddlers into the ballet program," offered Pompeo with a reflective smile. "J'lyse dances from the soul. She is passionate about her craft and strives for perfection - always."
J'lyse's parents, Kimberlee and Jay Kafana, and Pompeo are quick to share credit for her access to the many intensive workshops and educational experiences the young dancer has had with others, some known and others who supported her dream anonymously.
"She has accomplished so much in a short time and continues to reach for her dreams," said Jay Kafana. "We have tried to instill humility, love and compassion for others in all that she does. To always be gracious to others in her success and failures, and to continue to learn from both to grow and accomplish her goals."
Pompeo proudly notes the affection felt for J'lyse and belief in her abilities to reach her personal and professional dreams are very real to the dance school family and its supporters, many of whom have stepped up to help cover the high cost of her classical ballet education, and who fully intend to continue helping cover the cost of her dance education.
J'lyse shared a special note of thanks with her local dance school community after learning she would soon be attending classes at the school in Pittsburgh.
"I would like to thank all of my teachers, family, friends and 'pointe shoe fairies' that have given their time, talent, love and support over the years and have contributed to my success. I would not have achieved all that I have without all of you," the teen shared with her friends and supporters.
"Words cannot describe how proud we are of her and all of her accomplishments this far. We will do all that we can to help her reach her goals and will be there every step of the way," her father said. "Kim and I would love to thank all of our family and friends for all of their support and love with helping J'lyse reach for her dreams. We would not know what we would do without them."
Just as parents of students leaving home to join a freshman college class experience tugs on their heart strings, so too is it an emotion being felt by those who know and love this young woman - a soon to be high school freshman.
Children all grow up and begin to follow their own respective path too quickly in the eyes of those who love them and who see them on a regular basis at this point in their life's story.
It is when the next chapter has to begin that the emotions - even those of joy and pride - will crack through the most controlled expressions; something few are ever quite ready for when it first happens.
"It's hard to watch her grow up into the beautiful and talented young woman she has become, but it is time for her to sprout her wings and fly," offered Pompeo. "I am so fortunate and blessed to have been a small part of such an amazing and magical journey."
J'lyse's father added that she "has gone from baby steps to beautiful leaps. Everyday she continues to amaze and inspire us. From a young age, she has always wanted to go to Juilliard and has never wavered from that path."
"I was so proud when J'lyse won her first dance scholarship at the West Virginia Fall Dance Festival. She was awarded the option to return the following year at no cost," said Pompeo. "It is not often a dance teacher has a student you know will do great things in the arts. I feel that is my responsibility as one of J'lyse's teachers to provide the opportunities for her to further her career as a dancer."
Highlights of J'lyse's dance education experiences have included earning scholarships and invitations to various prestigious schools, classes and workshops including: (2002-present) The Oglebay Institute School of Dance and Youth Ballet Company Pre-Professional Student and Company Member; (2003-2011) The Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company and School Pre-Professional Student and Company Member; summer season experience offerings including The English National Ballet School; Kaatsbann International Dance Center's Extreme Ballet Program (2013); The Joffrey Ballet School in New York; The Rock School of Dance Education; The West Virginia University College of Creative Arts Summer Dance Academy; Point Park University Summer Dance Program and Chautauqua Institution Junior Dance Workshop.
"We have watched her grow and strive to accomplish her goals, and through ups and downs, she has not let anyone or anything deter her from achieving her dreams," added her father. "Watching her grow, not only in her dancing but in all aspects of life, has been an amazing journey. She continues to show who she is in all she does. Humble, gracious, caring and compassionate, she never thinks of herself. She always thinks of others and is a genuine person. Her family and friends are everything to her, and she will do anything for them."
"Ballerinas are not made, they are born - born to dance - and that is certainly true when you are talking about J'lyse," offered Pompeo.