March 7, 2012

Glory Road: Daniel Ulbricht

How this athlete is inspiring the next generation of dancers.

Shelby: With a vertical jump that is as high as most NBA players, Daniel Ulbricht has become one of New York City ballet’s star performers. But you would never have guessed that this superman on stage was once a two-time Florida State karate champion!

First of all, how did you get into ballet?

Daniel Ulbricht: I got started because of my sister. I was an active kid doing other activities, like gymnastics and karate, and we would always pick her up last. I found the right teacher who said, ‘you got to try this.’

Shelby: He tried it and found his calling. So, he went from the karate studio to the ballet studio. But making that switch wasn’t easy.

Were there any big challenges you had to overcome in order to make it?

Daniel: I think, first and foremost, when I first danced I was one of the only guys in my side of the state of Florida who probably danced. And to look at yourself as one of the only people to pursue that, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing. You had peer pressure. You had people saying, ‘you know, maybe this is not the right thing for you.’ And for a moment you listen to it, and if you go into class the next day and those words either stay with you or they melt away, you know you’re at the right place at the right time.

Shelby: And at sixteen, that right place meant moving from his hometown in St. Petersburg, Florida to New York City to join the School of American Ballet.

Daniel: I was like 15 or 16, and they kind of thought, ‘you’re not just going to come back to sophomore math with us?’ I was like, ‘no, I’m moving to New York to pursue what I want.’ And that was a big turn around.

Shelby: Daniel was on the fast track to stardom. He soon was asked to be an apprentice with New York City Ballet, one of the most elite dance companies in the world performing in front of 2,500 people per night.

With his gravity-defying jumps, Daniel makes his performances look…well…easy. But being a top athlete takes a lot of work.

Daniel: I think a lot of people automatically assume it’s just people running around on stage. I don’t think they quite understand the physical aspect of it. Many dancers, they’ll go into work at 10:30 in the morning and they’ll leave at 10:30 at night.

Shelby: It is worth it, Daniel says, when you are doing something that you love.

Daniel: There’s something reassuring about knowing that every day when you wake up, you know what calls you, you know what you want to do, you know how you want to contribute, you know how you want to give back.

Shelby: And giving back for Daniel means inspiring the next generation of dancers, especially those that might have challenges.

Daniel: Sometimes I think the two biggest things we run into is either ‘it costs too much’ or ‘there’s a lack of knowledge.’ So why put those barriers in there. So, I want to take out the cost of things and the fear factor of it and let people really experience it for what it is. And it’s a great creation we have.

Shelby: His great creation is his touring group called Daniel Ulbricht and Friends. They perform throughout the United States providing free dance education and outreach with some of the best dancers in the world.

Daniel: I kind of look at a classroom as a room full of light bulbs. Some people who naturally glow and are beaming, some people flicker and some have lights that are burnt out. My goal as a teacher is to have that whole entire classroom just shinning through.

Shelby: Shining on stage and in the classroom is something Daniel undoubtedly does best. But I was curious and wanted to see just how far this guy could jump for myself.

Alright, guys. I am about to have a competition with Daniel. We are doing awesome plie jumps. I have no idea what I am doing. Does anyone have any tips?

“Bend your legs.”

Shelby: Who do you think is going to win?

“You are!”

Shelby: Yeah. Right! Alright let’s do this.

Daniel: Alright. What you’re going to do is take two steps and your going to take off right at this line and we’re going to see where you get to.

Shelby: Four feet, nine inches, says the pro.

Thirteen feet! Is that what I am reading? Thirteen feet!

I guess making things look easy really isn’t so easy.

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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