As Geneva Spigner rolled her daughter’s wheelchair out of the hospital in 2011, she had one major concern: whether she her daughter would ever walk again, let alone dance.
“Christina was in a wheelchair!” said her mother, now back in Arizona with the rest of the family. “It was unbelievable to see.”
A year later, with faith, determination, and much physical therapy, Christina was back dancing, this time as Miami City Ballet’s only company apprentice for the 2012-2013 season.
This season, Christina’s stage time included performances in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and most recently in Program III: The Master’s La Valse ballets.
She is an understudy in Program IV: Broadway and Ballet, which opens at the Broward Center April 26-28; and culminates at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami May 2-5.
The final program of the Miami City Ballet's 2012-2013 season, Program IV features Dances at a Gathering, a ballet that celebrates dance and dancers and Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, which gives a nod to Broadway-style performances.
Lopez, who appointed Christina, mulled over the question of why dancers choose ballet.
“It is a calling,’’ she said. “It is at a level that I don’t understand. It may be cultural, something you read or odd circumstances. Other interests didn’t call them.”
For those who do commit to ballet, of the 5,000 or so who graduate annually from ballet schools around the country, very few make it into professional companies, said Virginia Johnson, founding member and artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which closed in 2004 because of financial difficulties, but the company is performing again this season.
“I commend Lourdes Lopez for finding space for this young dancer,” said Johnson. She has 18 dancers in the Dance Theatre of Harlem training school founded 44 years ago by dancer extraordinaire Arthur Mitchell.
When the school closed, it lost a generation of African American dancers, Johnson said. But, “soon there will be an outstanding pipeline of dancers. It takes a long time to develop a dancer to a professional level.”
There are other barriers for any aspiring dancer, including a huge financial outlay, for tuition, living expenses, travel, medical insurance. Tuition scholarships are available from some schools, including Miami City ballet.
Spigner’s parents paid for her first year at Miami City Ballet School,.
The Spigners didn’t hesitate to allow their daughter to follow her dream.
Besides the financial commitment, family support is crucial, said Karina Felix Fedele, publisher and editor of Dance Magazine Florida.
“The family needs to understand the student will spend most of her time in a studio and that being on a constant diet is a requirement. This could be very trying for a dancer.”
And positive role models are not so prevalent for black ballet dancers.
Christina said Misty Copeland, 30, a black soloist ballerina in the American Ballet Theater, is her inspiration. She is well aware that there are few people in ballet who look like her, but that may be changing.
“I get so many calls looking for black dancers,’’ Johnson said. “Things are changing for the better.”
While diversifying the ballet and broadening the audience pool are goals of Lopez, who was named artistic director a year ago, she was attracted to Christina’s talent, commitment, stage presence and teachability.
Meanwhile, Geneva Spigner left her daughter in Miami a year ago, when she turned 18. Now, Christina considers herself a South Floridian and the dancers who she spends most of her time with each day are her family members away from home.
“It’s beautiful, the weather is gorgeous all the time and I like to hear people speaking Spanish, Portuguese, French, Creole. It is so cool. I like the culture here.”