If someone had asked Jamie Kopit five years ago where she would picture her life at age nineteen, she would not have replied, “as a corp ballet member in the American Ballet Theater.” Nevertheless, this is exactly where Kopit, a nineteen-year-old from a small beach town Southern California, has found herself.
“For me, when I watch great ballet, I cry,” said Kopit as she sat poised on the pure white couch in her small apartment on the Upper West side, her dark hair tightly pulled back and away from her beaming expression. “It truly moves me. Watching it and doing it are two different things but both have that same feeling for me.”
Her eyes lit up at the chance to talk about ballet and reflect on the incredible journey that led her to join the ranks of the prestigious ABT at only seventeen years of age.
Thinking back on how she got her start with ballet, Kopit smirked as she recalled the rocky beginning years. At three years old, when she first began taking classes at the respected local dance studio in her Huntington Beach hometown, Southland Ballet Academy, she was not a fan.
“I really only did it because my older sister was doing it, and three years old was the age everyone started.” Kopit admitted. “I actually hated it and I think I quit when I was four years old for a year, and then I went back a year later.”
Nevertheless, Kopit ended up sticking with dance, even after her sister quit upon reaching her teenage years.
Kopit’s mother, Diane Kopit, supported her through these early ups and downs with dance.
“I didn’t know very much about ballet,” said Diane Kopit with a chuckle, “But I used to have to go in the room and dance with her.”
By the time she was twelve however, Kopit’s perception and feelings about the sport began to shift.
“I really got into it and almost became addicted to ballet,” Kopit said. “I was getting feedback that I was successful, and as I worked harder and more people were telling me good things, it became clearer that I could carry this out.”
Lana Brooks, one of Kopit’s first ballet teachers at Southland Ballet Academy was one of the many people who provided this encouraging feedback.
“She was my favorite dancer from the first time I started working with her. I saw a lot of potential in her,” said Brooks.
“She caught your eye when she danced on stage. She had a lot of natural talent and she was exciting to watch. She does not dance like she is a human, she dances with such grace and lightness and elegance that she looks ethereal, that she’s not real.”
Brooks explained she always hoped Kopit would pursue a professional dance career, even before Kopit herself realized this was something she wanted. It was not until she reached high school that the idea became increasingly appealing.
“She really started applying herself and practiced even more so,” Brooks described. “By her sophomore year she knew what she wanted, she knew what she had to do.”
When she was fifteen, an opportunity arose for Kopit to pursue her goals- Youth American Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition.
“This year was my year to do well,” Kopit explained with a tone of determination, “I knew I wanted to go somewhere from this competition, I wanted to get scholarship to go to some school.”
Sure enough, her goals were fulfilled when the Royal Ballet School in London offered her a scholarship and invitation to join their academy.
“It was very difficult,” said Diane Kopit, regarding the decision to let Jamie leave home at fifteen and attend school on the other side of the world. “I think other parents thought I was a little crazy. But I could see that she had passion and she had thought everything out, and it wasn’t just a whim. I felt I had to let her go and follow her dream.”
So at fifteen, Kopit left her family, friends and hometown to attend one of the most prestigious dance academies in the world.
“That was a very tough transition,” admitted Kopit. “Before that I was going to high school and just training after school. And this was a full program where you were dancing all day, nine to five.” Added Kopit: “It really taught me to work hard.”
Before she had even completed her second year at the Royal Ballet School, she received a call from her former ballet teacher, Nacy Raffa. Raffa, who was then working as a ballet mistress at ABT, invited her to take a class with the company while they were touring in London. After taking the class, Kopit was asked to fly to New York for an audition, because ABT was looking to hire.
“It was one of those companies where I thought, ‘Yeah sure I’ll get into ABT one day’” Kopit laughed, remembering her own cynicism.
Although to her it seemed like a long shot at the time, just a week and a half later Kopit received an email from ABT offering her an apprenticeship with the company.
“Transition from California to Royal was tough, but the transition from Royal to ABT was tougher,” Kopit said.
She explained that the way the Royal program is designed, students are trained on a more basic level during the first and second years, and the third year focuses on preparing them for the professional world.
Since she lacked this third year of training, Kopit remembered, “I felt really insecure about my dancing because I didn’t feel like I was ready yet.”
If being a teenager entering the professional world was not difficult enough, the fact that she was joining ABT, one of the most reputable dance companies in the world made it even more challenging.
“You have a reputation to uphold being a part of ABT,” Kopit explained. “As one of the younger people, you know the older people are waiting for you to mess up so you have to know what you’re doing all the time. When I first joined I had to learn eight different ballets in a week, and it was insane.”
Diving headfirst into this world was incredibly strenuous and came with a lot of pressure, but Kopit persevered. Although the classes were much more challenging than any she had experienced with Southland or Royal, she explained they were a very exciting time, because she actually got to dance.
“One of the hardest things about joining a company is, when you start, you feel so in shape, so young, and so ready and then you don’t get to do anything,” Kopit explained.
“You have to stand in the back, and that’s really frustrating. But slowly they incorporate you more.”
Now in her second year in the company, Kopit has left the role of apprentice and is a member of the corps de ballet at ABT.
In the past two years, she has become an important integral part of the company, admired by her co-workers.
“Jamie has an incredible work ethic that inspires and motivates me,” remarked Gabby Johnson, Kopit’s friend of and fellow corps de ballet member in ABT. “She is also always willing to help you out if you’re ever in need. She strives to be the best, while still helping others.”
Another co-worker, Lily Wisdom described, “On stage she is a pleasure to dance with as we’ll as to watch. I can just see the love of what she does radiating out from her.”
This love for what she does has carried Kopit throughout every challenge and triumph during her career. While she could have easily continued with high school in her home town and gone on to attend college along with her childhood friends, Jamie does not regret choosing the unconventional path.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Jamie said with a sweet smile spreading across her face. “I’m way too lucky!”
Throughout her journey, Kopit has received a great deal of support from friends, teachers, and especially family in her decision to pursue a professional dance career.
In a proud tone, Diane Kopit said, “I realize that it is a profession that can’t last forever. But nowadays, everyone seems to have more than one career. I don’t see a problem with her going for her dream, and doing it while she can.”