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Sunday, April 20, 2014
'A rising star'
Woodland student has overcome challenges to excel in ballet
Ron Manfredi/Herald
Leah Von Ohlen, 12, a seventh-grader at Woodland Middle School, says she wants to become a professional dancer.

There are many things that Leah Von Ohlen would like you to know about ballet. The 12-year-old Woodland Middle School student has been dancing for years, but two years ago she began focusing on ballet, and training at the Eglevsky Ballet Studio in Bethpage.

This weekend, she will perform in “The Nutcracker” at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Greenvale, a ballet that Eglevsky has performed for 45 years (See page 6 for a performance schedule).

Leah is dancing in the production for the second time, and she has practiced nearly every day for several weeks, a training schedule so rigorous that few outside the ballet world would appreciate it. “A lot of people think it’s boring,” she said. “I want them to know how we train. I want them to see that ballet is the base of every type of dance.”

Ballet is much more than a hobby for Leah, who said she dreams of becoming a professional dancer. It also serves as a release, or a distraction — since age 6, she has had absence epilepsy, a form of epilepsy to which children are most susceptible, whose symptoms are sudden onsets of brief seizures. “She thought [epilepsy] put a stigma on her,” said her mother, Heather. “She thought it made her different.”

Heather explained that the seizures give Leah the appearance of daydreaming, as if she is unaware of her surroundings. But medication controls them, and ballet, her mother said, serves as another form of medication. “It gave her confidence,” she said, “that it can’t hinder her.”

“When I’m dancing,” Leah added, “I don’t think about it, because I love it so much. It gets my mind off it.”

The Eglevsky Ballet is a nonprofit now in its 50th year, having moved from new Hyde Park to Bethpage a year ago. The school ranks its students by ability, not age, and Leah is currently at an intermediate level, with girls 10 to 15 years old. She has grown accustomed to balancing school and other obligations with her busy training schedule. Indeed, she spoke with the Herald while practicing at the Eglevsky studio on a recent Saturday, during one of her breaks.

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