Spinning into the spotlight: The story of a local ballerina


Faith Fasoldt

Sarah McVey poses in Millenium Park on a night off during the Joffrey Summer Intensive.

Ramya Subramaniam, Student Life Editor

There is a single spotlight on stage as the orchestra slowly begins to play their first line. Voices are quieting down as the lights are dimming. 

Behind the curtains, PV senior Sarah McVey waits for her cue. She takes a deep breath, pushes out all the butterflies and goes on pointe as she steps onto stage.

McVey has been dancing since she was four years old. She has studied jazz, contemporary, modern, pointe and her favorite, ballet. McVey continues to grow her love for the art as a student at Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance in Rock Island, Ill.

In a normal week, McVey attends 10 hours of dance class learning ballet, jazz, modern and classical repertoire, a style that teaches dances from famous compositions. Outside of class, she spends time stretching to improve her flexibility and practicing each routine she learned during class in order to perfect it. 

McVey’s passion for dance, specifically ballet, stems from her love for classical music. “I have an appreciation for it [classical music]. When I dance, I love to express myself through the music,” she commented. “I love ballet so much because I love listening to all the instruments in the music and feeling that I can express myself through it.”

McVey’s inspiration to use ballet and music as an expression came from her mentor, Abigail Simon, a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, who McVey took private lessons from as a child.  To this day, McVey continues to train with Simon and learn new ways to improve her craft.

McVey continues to implement one of Simon’s biggest pieces of advice: be one with the music. “I was dancing a variation from ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ and she told me I have to feel the music while I’m dancing. I have to listen to every pluck of the violin and every string struck by the harp because I am dancing to the notes that the instrument is playing,” she recalled.

McVey’s dedication has allowed her to excel in multiple competitive auditions. Every winter, Ballet Quad Cities puts on a performance of “The Nutcracker,” where McVey performed as the lead, Clara, when she was 14, 15 and 17 years old. As Clara, McVey had the unique opportunity  to train and perform with professional dancers. 

McVey often reminisces on when she first learned that she landed the position of Clara. “I was never the same after that moment, I accepted confidence as a part of myself. Confidence — combined with passion, determination and hardwork — can accomplish anything,” she said.

McVey’s hours and hours of determined dedication towards her art began to open new doors of endless possibilities — one of the most notable being the opportunity to take part in the Joffrey Academy of Dance Advanced Summer Intensive in Chicago, which is meant to train students to become competitive dancers. Initially, McVey was waitlisted for the competitive program, however, earned a coveted spot in 2017 and 2019. 

By participating in the intensive twice, McVey met and learned from professional artists she admired. She also forged friendships with talented dancers from across the world, some coming from Brazil, England and the United States. 

“I was really nervous before I went there, but I improved so much as a dancer because I learned a lot about the dedication and work that goes into becoming a ballet professional,” McVey said.

Sarah’s younger sister, Lizzie McVey, has seen Sarah dance from a young age all the way until she performed at The Joffrey. Lizzie McVey recognizes her sister’s talent. “Ballet requires a lot of skill and practice, which Sarah has put the time in for,” she commented. “Sarah works really hard because she always makes sure that she’s super early for ballet. You can tell she loves it because she practices her routines at home all the time.”

Sarah knows ballet is her talent to pursue. “I believe that everyone in the world has unique gifts and talents to share with the world. When I am dancing on stage, I am always thinking about how I can bring a smile to people’s face when they are watching me dance,” she described. 

Sarah hopes to continue dancing throughout college either through a program or just for herself, though she does not plan on becoming a professional.