I sit with and listen to her story of where she has been, where she is now and where she wants to go.
I am looking into the face of Julia Ann Maxwell, a 15-year-old 10th-grader at Bulloch Academy. She already has the classic portrait of a ballerina — graceful in her posture and gestures. Add to that a voice that is easy to follow as she tells her story.
I am curious. How did this journey begin? And where?
Enter a big smile from Mom, Susanne Maxwell, who sheds light on her daughter’s debut into the world of dancing.
“I was like most moms. Julia Ann was 3 when I thought dancing would be a good activity to engage her in — meeting other little friends and a bit of expected control from someone other than me,” she says. “And so away we went to Ms. Helen’s studio, enrolled her, and each week that followed, I walked her into that wonder of Helen’s.
“Come spring, and the evening parents gather to watch their daughters show off what they had learned from Ms. Helen,” Susanne continues. “The lights dim, the curtain sweeps open, and there my 3-year-old stood in a chorus line. The music begins and (stirs) these little ones — all except Julia Ann. Stoic I would offer as an adjective — I mean rigid. The only movements displayed by my child were huge drops of tears. I’m sitting with my mother, stricken with not knowing what to do, whereupon my mother, with brief interjection, said, ‘Go get the child!’ ”
Now I look at Julia Ann, who is full of laughter, gasping and saying: “It is the truth, if it ever be told.”
Backstage now, with Mom soothing her 3-year-old daughter, Susanne and her mother talked about how much fun the next routine would be, when little Julia Ann would wear the Dalmatian costume.
And that did it.
Twelve years later, Julia Ann has a resume of commitment, determination and passion. She has spent the past five summers reaching for the dream, pushing herself to the limit, through an itinerary of tough studios.
Proof of Julia Ann’s desire is found in summer enrollments in the New York-based American Ballet Theatre summer intensive in Alabama, The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and Ballet Chicago, among others. These are rigid schools that each last at least five weeks.
Now I look at Mom, who has been my favorite pharmacist since she and her husband, Joey, returned to Statesboro. She has been so resourceful when I needed advice about medications.
Susanne says, without ceremony: “Somehow, Joey and I have found a way. When Julia Ann was 9, I knew she meant business. When she turned 13, I told Joey, ‘She’s got it.’ So for the past five years, we have supported her to the fullest, making certain these were the five weeks of elevated training she needed and, let me add, the influence of Helen Redding and, later, Shay Morgan. I know each of them are in my child’s heart, forever grateful for their teachings and constant encouragement.”
I return to Julia Ann, and she already knows my question.
“Yes, it is my goal, after high school, to enroll in as many auditions as possible, to be invited to join a company and take my beginning place in the back line,” she says. “That will suit me just fine, but Mom and Dad know I do not want to stand still. I am going for the day when being a prima, and the solo spotlight follows my every move is my goal — a far cry from my first appearance, stoic and tears.”
Locally, she is now under the learned apostle, Jurijs Safonovs, the director of the Statesboro Youth Ballet.
“He is qualified to push me, to be tough on his expectations,” Julia Ann says. “With him, I am not missing out on anything.”
By way of her national travels each summer to faraway places for five- to six-week sessions, she says: “I always look forward to performing here at home in ‘The Nutcracker,’ which I first auditioned for when I was 6.”
As we stand to leave, I ask the group — Julia Ann, Mom and younger sister Victoria — to pause for a moment. I apologize for not asking what Julia Ann’s plans are while she completes high school.
Without a hitch, she responds, “Spend one summer workshop in Russia.”
I look into the face of Mom, who just smiles and says: “This weekend, Joey and I are driving to Auburn University, where our 18-year-old son, Chandler, will be studying mechanical engineering.”
Now, as I watch the three of them cross the parking lot, they are engaged in conversation, and I wonder what they are talking about. Is it their grocery list, or where they begin their search for a summer program in Moscow?