When her second grade class at Birch Elementary School was asked to write a letter to someone they admired, Isabella Aletrakis immediately knew whom she would address her letter to.
“Someone who really inspires me is Misty Copeland,” said Aletrakis, now 17 and a senior at John F. Kennedy High School. “I chose her and she wrote me a whole letter back.”
The Merrick native was inspired by Copeland’s story, she said. In 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman promoted to principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history.
“Even though she struggled, now she’s a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre,” one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States, Aletrakis said. “It showed that I could potentially become something like that.”
Aletrakis was recently selected as a Long Island Scholar Artist for her achievements in the classroom and on the dance floor. Earlier this year, her teacher at Long Island High School for the Arts, where Aletrakis attends a half-day dance program, encouraged her to apply. The school is located in Syosset.
Each year, the Long Island Scholar Artist program recognizes students who excel academically and in the areas of music, visual arts, dance, theater or media arts.
In addition to an essay, résumé and activity sheet, Aletrakis was required to submit a video audition. She performed a ballet and a contemporary routine, choreographing the contemporary portion herself.
“Isabella is diligent, articulated, motivated and personable,” said Elissa Germaine, Aletrakis’ high school guidance counselor. “She has taken one of the most demanding course loads available to her at Kennedy while pursuing her passion for dance after school hours.”
Aletrakis has been dancing since she was 1 ½. “My mom lied about my age because she wanted to see me in a tutu,” she said through a smile. “I didn’t finish out that year because I was still a little too immature.”
Aletrakis returned to take dance classes at the North Shore Performing Arts Center in Syosset that summer. When she turned seven, she started competing in dance competitions. At 11 she wanted a change, and decided to train at the Manhattan Youth Ballet School while attending dance conventions on the weekends.
“When I first started out it was very intimidating,” she said, “but getting this award and being at a pre-professional ballet school in New York City is crazy. I never would have expected this to happen.”
After attending classes at Kennedy, Aletrakis goes to LIHSA to complete her dance coursework. She then commutes to Manhattan Youth Ballet, where she trains for four-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week.
“It’s a huge commitment on her end,” said her mother, Rose. “She’s given things up along the way — school, friends, parties — [but] she just keeps on improving and . . . moving further.”
Aletrakis’ favorite dance styles are ballet, contemporary and the combination of the two. She enjoys the inherent beauty of ballet routines and the “flowy” movements employed in contemporary choreography.
“In contemporary ballet you have classical lines, but you get to distort them and do interesting things,” she explained. “It’s cool how you could use ballet and apply it to contemporary [and vice versa].”
Upon graduation this May, Aletrakis plans to attend a college with a dedicated dance program while auditioning for professional ballet companies “to get a head start.” Like Copeland, she aspires to be a principal dancer in a ballet company, preferably one that also offers contemporary applications, she said.