Eighteen years ago, 10-year old Sara Sardelli performed in her first ballet. She wore a white leotard, colorful skirt with matching sleeves and a crown — she was the best darn dancing dragonfly New Hartford, N.Y., had ever seen.
For Sardelli, there was no moment of realization; instead, it was love at first ballet class.
“It was kind of understood in my mind that’s what I was going to do,” she explains. “I was going to be a professional dancer.”
Her parents were supportive of her passion, but realistic at the same time. Her father, Larry, who was not a particularly good baseball player, would say, “Well, I didn’t succeed in professional baseball.” His point: It’s hard in any profession to make it to the professional level.
But this past spring, Saradelli’s “coach,” rather, the director of the Sarasota Ballet, Iain Webb, welcomed Sardelli to his team of principal dancers. Yes, Sardelli had made it to the big leagues, after all.
“(Iain Webb) was like, ‘Want a cup of coffee? You’re a principal,’” Sardelli giggles as she tells the story of when she learned of her promotion from second soloist to principal. “I said, ‘Are you sure?’”
Of course, she was excited. And, of course, he was sure.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m a principal. I can’t act up anymore; I need to behave myself,” she laughs again.
Sardelli’s memorable roles, as the student in Flemming Flindt’s “The Lesson,” in Will Tuckett’s “Spielende Kinder” and the pas de trois of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Les Rendezvous,” were crowd-pleasing roles that suggest her playful demeanor doesn’t impede her stubborn fixation on perfection.
“It’s hard to ever feel fulfilled,” she explains. “I always feel like, ‘Ugh! That could have been better.’ I have such a way to go.”
Sardelli has already come a long way. She joined the Sarasota Ballet in 2009 but worked at two companies prior to her current gig. Her first job as a professional was in Kentucky with the Louisville Ballet.
She left Kentucky to take what she thought would be a better opportunity, at a smaller Miami-based company called Ballet Gamonet, which ended up folding. The move left Sardelli jobless.
With her position up in the air, she called a hometown friend and, now, fellow principal, Victoria Hulland, to see if there was any way to take class at Sarasota Ballet — a typically “impossible” feat. But, somehow, Sardelli managed to get her foot in the door.
Then she fell during her first class.
“I never understood why he hired me, but he’s stuck with me now, I think,” she jokes of Webb.
According to Sardelli, the most difficult part of her profession is how critical dancers can be of themselves, even when they appear to have ample confidence.
“I mean, we are surrounded by mirrors all day, surrounded by people telling us what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong,” she says.
But Sardelli is comfortable with the Sarasota Ballet.
“I’ve been places where I’ve either been too small or they didn’t have enough spots to hire; of course, (the thought has) crossed my mind that it isn’t going to work or maybe I’ll have to find something else,” Sardelli says. “But it’s never crossed my mind that I’m going to give up.”
Before Sardelli had the chance to dance in her first show as a company member of Sarasota Ballet, she got a stress fracture.
“I thought I was going to lose my contract,” she says. But, upon her recovery, Sardelli came back to the stage with a strong presence — two lead roles.
In November 2011, an infected cyst had her benched. But Webb understands that bad days, bad weeks and even bad months come with the good.
“Once you’re his dancer, you’re his dancer,” Sardelli says.
His dancers rehearse from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday during season. During the summer, Sardelli instructs an adult Pilates class at the Sarasota Ballet School.
“We get a long break in the summer, but, normally, I take that time to get better at ballet,” she says.
This off-season, Sardelli did guest roles for “Swan Lake” in Tampa; a show in Fort Lauderdale; and she also flew more than 3,000 miles to guest in a Brazilian production of “Romeo and Juliet.”
“I’ve gone to a few different places, and although they were great places, I realize how much I have here,” she says.
Sardelli loves performing and she’s got quite a season headed her way, starting Oct. 26.
She foreshadows upcoming work with choreographer Matthew Hart, on the anxiously anticipated, Ringling Circus-themed “Nutcracker” performance in December.
“It is going to be awesome,” she says.
She had the pleasure of working with Hart last year on “Ballet Fantasy” and “Cry Baby Kreisler.” She’s also awaiting the repeat of “Les Rendezvous,” because the pas de trois was one of her favorite memories. She’s looking forward to repeating “There Where She Loves,” which the ballet did when she first joined the company. She’s confident in her new position and ready to “step it up,” she says.
“They never make me feel like I’m too small to do anything,” she says of Sarasota Ballet.
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