Debra Rogo, artistic director of the Mid-Columbia Ballet, is filled with pride and joy as two of her talented ballerinas advance in the dance world.
Erica Wend, the 18-year-old daughter of Tammy and Chris Wend of Richland, earned an impressive $96,000 full-ride scholarship to study dance at the University of Texas in Austin.
The Hanford High grad has danced studied with Rogo since she was 8 years old.
Mariah Lee Shearer, the 17-year-old daughter of Rod and Marcia Shearer of Pasco, is one of 15 American high school ballet dancers selected for the Russian American Foundation's annual youth dance program.
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She will spend six weeks, starting July 14, studying the Russian language, culture and ballet at the renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia.
Rogo is proud not only of the accomplishments of Wend and Shearer, but also of the record number of her dancers who received dance scholarships this year.
"We are so incredibly proud of all our dancers," Rogo said. "As they grow and mature, they develop a deep appreciation for the benefits of hard work and a passion for this art form."
Rogo and her husband Joel have been co-directors of the Mid-Columbia Ballet for 25 years.
Shearer is in New York City getting extra training to prepare her for the Russian residency, said Michaela Smrticova of the Russian American Foundation, which is based in New York City.
"(The program) seeks to increase Americans capacity to engage with native speakers of critical languages by providing language learning and by promoting mutual understanding through educational and cultural activities," Smrticova said in an email. "The scholarship covers all program costs for participants, including domestic and international travel, tuition, meals, accommodations and much more."
The Texas-bound Wend says her attraction to ballet came early.
"Whenever music played, I danced," she said. "My mother says it was my idea to start taking ballet lessons, although it might have been the tutus that first drew me to ballet."
Once the passion kicks in, there's no turning back, Wend said.
"Parents can introduce you to ballet, but the desire and passion to stay with ballet has to be inside you," she said. "We work too long and hard to be doing it for someone else. I think part of what continues to draw me to ballet is that it challenges me both physically and mentally."
Ballet isn't Wend's only dance passion, though.
"I love all types," she said. "Modern, jazz, tap, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop, African, you name it I'd love to learn it. Being well-rounded is what every dancer wants to be."
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com