Local ballerinas perform in NYC ballet
NEW YORK — Not many Fort Dodge teenagers can say they’ve performed on stage in the Big Apple, but 12-year-old Josie Moffitt can.
On Sunday, Moffitt joined 2008 Manson Northwest-Webster graduate Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch in the Chevalier Ballet Company’s performance of “A Dancer’s Christmas,” directed by Sara Knight.
Moffitt and Vetter-Drusch’s stories have similar origins. Both started their careers with dance classes at Hollingsworth School of Dance and Gymnastics in Fort Dodge. Both decided to focus their practice on classical ballet and went on to be students at the School of Classical Ballet and Dance in Des Moines, having to commute almost four hours round-trip to lessons. Prior to studying in Des Moines, Vetter-Drusch spent much of her high school years commuting to Minneapolis for ballet training three or four days a week.
“A Dancer’s Christmas” is an alternative to the Nutcracker, Knight said. The ballet was created and choreographed in 1980 by Jesuit priest Rev. Robert VerEecke for the student dance company at Boston College and tells the story of the birth of Christ from the book of Luke. Knight described the performance as a mixture of ballet, modern and liturgical dance styles.
“The beauty of this performance is it’s a real family-friendly show,” Knight said. “It has professional dancers, non-professional dancers and children all included in the show. It’s a really warm holiday tradition.”
Sunday’s ballet was performed at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, an intimate theater on the Upper West Side, just off of Broadway.
This was Moffitt’s first trip to New York, she said. It was also her first time performing on a stage of this caliber.
“It seems like a little bit of a bigger deal,” Moffitt said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Moffitt is currently a student of Vetter-Drusch and that’s how she was invited to be part of Sunday’s performance. Moffitt also dances at the School of Classical Ballet and Dance in Des Moines.
“She did a beautiful performance,” Knight said of Moffitt on Sunday. “I forget how young she is. You’ve got seasoned professionals and I’m barking instructions while the music’s playing, and she just took it in stride. It’s like a crash course in being a professional dancer.”
Moffitt said she knows more about what being a professional ballerina is like than she did before she came to New York.
“Now I’m even more certain that I want to do this,” she said.
In 2008, Vetter-Drusch graduated from MNW a year early and moved to NYC at the age of 17 to study with Knight. Her first professional ballet jobs were with Tulsa Ballet II and later Gelsey Kirkland in New York. She retired from ballet after an injury and became an actor, working in New York until moving back home to Manson at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really because of Sara that I’ve come back to dancing again,” Vetter-Drusch said.
Vetter-Drusch also aims to expand access and exposure to the fine arts like ballet in rural communities. While Iowa schools have some wonderful arts programs, she said, many students still fall through the cracks and do not have access to the arts education that would allow them to pursue dreams like performing with a professional ballet company.
When Vetter-Drusch returned to her hometown when the pandemic lockdowns began, she started The Ballet Barn as a way to offer ballet lessons over Zoom and give more students opportunities to learn the craft. She also worked with local dance studios, like Star Struck Dance Center in Manson and Vicky’s Dance Academy in Gowrie, to host supplemental ballet training.
Vetter-Drusch’s efforts to expose rural Iowa to ballet aligns well with what Knight is doing at Chevallier Ballet Company, so she invited Vetter-Drusch to dance with the company and join Knight’s teaching faculty.
“The mission of Chevalier Ballet is to bring dance to audiences that don’t necessarily get to experience it,” Knight said.
“There are so many educational benefits for children studying dance to learn about self-confidence and to learn about how to dance respectfully with a partner, how to value yourself and how to collaborate with others,” Vetter-Drusch added.
This won’t be Moffitt’s last show with the Chevalier Ballet — she’s set to be in the ensemble for a show Vetter-Drusch is choreographing for the Chevalier in February.
Another Iowa ballerina was on stage Sunday. Lily Ungs, a native of Urbandale and student at Fordham University in New York City, also danced with the Chevalier Ballet.
A full recording of Sunday’s performance can be found on the Chevalier Ballet’s Youtube page, www.youtube.com/@ChevalierBallet.