CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — As Queen City News continues to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, a Charlotte girl will be one of the starring ballet dancers in a holiday tradition later this year.
Point your toes. Stand up straight. Smile. It is what made 13-year-old Elyn Jenkins a phenomenal ballerina.
“I just always loved the grace of it,” she says.
Elyn’s been dancing for almost eight years, perfecting every detail. It paid off when she was cast as Clara, the main character of the Nutcracker.
She’ll premiere in the role on the opening night of Charlotte Ballet Academy’s Winter Showcase.
Elyn is one of three dancers to get the nod.
She’s also Afro-Latina, making her the only minority portraying Clara in this production. That’s a breakthrough that doesn’t happen often.
“I was thinking about all the little girls that I see whenever I come into the studio. And I was thinking, man, imagine if they got to see me being Clara on the Nutcracker like that look like me like, whoa, I can really make a difference for them,” Elyn says, still breathing heavily from rehearsal.
Charlotte Ballet Academy Director Ayisha McMillan Cravotta watches from the side; she says she had the honor of being a Clara for a 2005 Nutcracker production.
She says Elyn presents every quality the academy wants in the role.
“She always carries a special ability to tell a story when she’s dancing, especially in a role like this for Nutcracker, where the story centers around this young girl and we see the holiday. We see Christmas through her eyes. We see imagination and adventure through this young girl’s eyes. And she was giving us that—the students who we have so many really wonderful students whom I cherish them all,” Cravotta said.
Sophie Mercure is the Associate Director of the Lower School, and she directs the children’s cast of the Nutcracker. She spends a lot of time with the 13-year-old dancer, constructively critiquing her every move and making sure she is the epitome of a ballerina and a Clara.
Mercure says minority representation for this starring role is scarce. The character is normally portrayed by white dancers.
“If we can cast Clara as of all different ethnicities and races and show that it’s not just the stereotypical blond Clara like growing up. For me, Clara was always blond—almost always. So, I think it’s really important and letting them know they’re not limited, that they can do anything, and they can step into all these different roles,” Mercure said.
Elyn says she understands the significance behind the casting, and she’s accepting the honor with grace.
“I want to make my grandma proud, and I want to make everyone and just like be able to see that even though I’m a minority and it’s not that common to be in the Nutcracker as ‘Clara’ when you’re Afro-Latina, I just want people to see that you can still be really beautiful for that,” she said.
The showcase runs from December 8–23 at the Belk Theater.