Nevaeh McCarthy and her mother, Carla Burrell, found inspiration in the same dance program — 20 years apart.
The news was like something out of a bad dream. Carla Burrell learned she was moving from her hometown of Sarasota to Clemson, S.C.
Not only would the young Bay Haven student have to leave behind her friends, but she would also be leaving Dance —The Next Generation, Sarasota Ballet’s dance-outreach program, which she had come to love.
Burrell joined the relatively new initiative in 1993, at her grandmother’s encouragement. The program, founded by Pavel Fomin to inspire young students to pursue dance, quickly piqued her interest, and leaving it behind was devastating.
“I stopped dancing after that,” she says. “I was homesick, and I was sad that I couldn’t dance anymore.”
Now, 20 years later, Burrell is back in Sarasota with her 10-year-old daughter, Nevaeh McCarthy. A lot of things are the same: The program she fell in love with is still here; the Sarasota Ballet is still here, more robust than ever; even Fomin is still here. It wasn’t long until Nevaeh followed in her mother’s artistic steps.
“I knew DNG would come by the schools and ask students to audition,” she says. “I didn’t say anything when she came home with the sign-up paper, but I was really excited. It was like history repeating itself.”
Fomin formed DNG in 1991 after immigrating to the United States from Ukraine. Since then, he’s used the program to reach young students who are interested in dance or are at risk of dropping out of school. He says dance training teaches students focus, discipline and how to express themselves.
“At first, I didn’t know what to do with these kids,” he says. “They were running all over, climbing on trees and running around the building.”
But once he got his students into the rehearsal space on the New College campus, he saw them begin to flourish.
Burrell remembers how nervous she was in the beginning when she was one of those students.
“I’d never had any any dance training before,” she says. “It was very intimidating, because we were around all the professionals.”
But through encouragement from Fomin and her family, Burrell became passionate about dance, and she knew her daughter could also benefit from the disciplined artistry.
“She’s just always danced,” says Burrell. “I joke about it and say even in my womb, she danced.
That’s something I always recognized with her. I wanted to nurture what I saw in her and expose her to the arts.”
Raising the Barre
Three years after she first started DNG, McCarthy sees what her mother knew all along: She was born to dance.
“It’s a creative way to express myself,” she says. “You get to be a different person on the stage. When you love something, it’s like your second home.”
Every day, she wakes up at 7 a.m. to prepare for school at Bay Haven. She’s focused and happy in class, but after school three days a week, it’s all about ballet. Everything else fades away.
The aspiring ballerina recently auditioned for the ballet school’s production of “The Nutcracker,” and Nevaeh is prepping as if the show were this week. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays are a barrage of ballet, jazz classes and character dancing.
It’s a packed schedule for any elementary school student, but with support from her family and dance teachers, Nevaeh has grown as a dancer. She’s even advanced, on scholarship, to the Sarasota Ballet School, the ballet’s second-tier dance-training program.
“I have noticed a change,” says Burrell. “She’s grown a lot. I see a big difference, not only in her dancing, but also in her maturity.”
And though she’s just 10, Nevaeh has the determination of an artist twice her age. This is more than just an after-school activity. It’s her dream profession.
“I just love it,” she says. “This is something I’ll always want to be a part of.”