The Director of the IBA Career & College Guidance Program interviewed Lydia Acker who was featured in our final Student Spotlight of the 2017-2018 year.
IBA: Congratulations, Lydia, on being featured in IBA's Student Spotlight for May. We’ve known you since you were a preschooler. How does it feel to be graduating?
LA: It’s so beyond scary! The last couple of weeks have certainly been very stressful, as I work to finish school, prepare for college, and finish my last days at International Ballet. Therefore, I’m also excited for it all to come into place so that I can embark on a crazy, new, and exciting journey. As a little pre-ballerina at IBA, I always dreamed of being one of the “older girls” who the younger ones aspired to be, and I hope that I have grown into that role within the last few years. It’s just unbelievable to think that I am now a graduating “older girl” for someone else now, and I’m essentially passing the torch to the next generation. I’m so thrilled to watch from afar all of the new budding ballerinas of International Ballet grow into beautiful, amazing stars!
IBA: Was there ever a time when you thought, “I think I want to do something besides ballet”? If so, what made you stick with it?
LA: Even from a young age, my parents always taught me the importance of never giving up and sticking to commitments; however, I think it is normal for everyone at some point in their life to question what they are passionate about. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand why I was sacrificing my free-time or my social time with friends to go to ballet class, but I knew that if I ever were to quit ballet, I would have to take up some other kind of sport or activity, which most likely would have been gymnastics. And considering at a first-grade tumbling birthday party, I was the only one who couldn’t do a cartwheel, my future with that sport seemed quite dim. It was usually during the year I would start having these uneasy feelings towards ballet, especially when I started to grow tired of the structured classes that all seemed to be the same, but by the time the end of the year rolled around, I realized that I truly loved performing, which is essentially what ballet is all about. I realized that anything worth doing comes with challenges, so there were, and still are, days where I feel frustrated, annoyed, and disappointed with my progress in ballet, but being able to see progress after a performance and say, “Wow, I did that,” is one of the most incredible feelings ever.
IBA: Congratulations on graduating as salutatorian in your class at South Carolina Connections Academy! You are ranked #2 out of over 500 students. Do you have to give a speech?
LA: Yes, I actually do have to give a speech. My twin sister, Logan, is the valedictorian of our graduating class, so both of us will be making a joint speech. It is a bit overwhelming to think about, because I don’t have much experience with public speaking, but I’m excited to share with the rest of my class my story and how my journey in ballet has taught me the importance of dedication, the significance of passion, and most importantly, the power of friendship.
IBA: What do you think you’ll miss most about IBA?
LA: International Ballet is one of the most unique communities I’ve ever been a part of, and honestly, every single time I go away for ballet summer intensives or auditions, I come back even more proud and honored to be a part of such a positive, supportive, and truly incredible atmosphere. So, most likely I will miss the friendships I have made at IBA the most. I have grown up with a group of the most amazing dancers and people for the past fourteen years, and I’m so grateful that I get to share such an important part of myself with them each and every day. Through rain, sickness, snow, stress, and all of the other aches and pains that ballet often brings, the same amazing group of people is there to support, encourage, and lift me up each day of the week. However, it is not just the dancers who have made my time at IBA truly special, it is also all of the teachers and staff at the studio as well. International Ballet is so lucky and honored to have a staff of the greatest teachers ever who have encouraged me to believe in myself and in my abilities, which has inspired me to work harder each and every day.
IBA: If you could go back and do one thing differently during your time at IBA, what would it be?
LA: I think this is true for almost every dancer, but I wish I would have worked a little harder when I was younger to get a bit of a head start on the years of growth in ballet I have experienced. It wasn’t really until I was 15 years old where I really realized what not only working hard, but working smartly, truly meant. I also understand, however, that if we knew what we know now in our younger years, then we could never make mistakes, learn, and grow! I’m sure in another five years I will know things that I wish I knew as I was graduating high school, so I do not regret anything. My path certainly might be very different from another person’s, but all I can worry about is my growth from here into my future, not my growth in the past.
IBA: What has been your best moment as a dancer?
LA: My best moment as a dancer was probably performing Gamzatti in IB’s 2017 Fall Chamber show. The experience made me grow so much as a dancer and person, and I especially learned so much more about partnering during the experience. My partner, Gabriel Paluszak, played the role of Solor, and while learning all the challenging lifts, transitions, and partnering turns, we both were able to grow as dancers and have the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. And even if it wasn’t my best moment as a dancer, it certainly was my proudest. I remember looking at the video that September completely bewildered, and flash forward to a couple months later, I’m performing it onstage full of confidence! I couldn’t be prouder of how far I progressed in the role during the one-on-one rehearsals every week, and I’m even more grateful to Vlada Kysselova for always believing in me and encouraging me to reach for the stars.
IBA: Congratulations on a fabulous performance as Swanilda in International Ballet’s Coppélia. What were you thinking as you stepped onto the Peace Center stage at the beginning of Act I?
LA: Thank you so much! It definitely was an amazing opportunity that I will never forget. Because Coppélia is such a long and tiring ballet – and unfortunately the hardest part is at the end – I had to think of each act separately. Therefore, in order to not completely spike my already pounding before-show jitters, at the beginning of Act I, I was simply thinking about what I had to do in that specific part of the performance. Before the show, I went out onstage to practice my turns, focus, and take a moment for myself. I like to quickly mark through everything I am about to do so that I will know exactly what to expect once I do step on the stage. Once finally onstage performing, however, all of these jitters usually go away, and I’m focused and determined on what I have to accomplish, but also a bit excited as well. I like to think about the incredible Greenville community and all the wonderful faces I know are sitting out in the audience supporting International Ballet.
IBA: You looked like you were having a lot of fun in that role. Was it fun?
LA: It was actually very hard stamina-wise. I think that is quite possibly the hardest thing about ballet: making it look fun and easy while we are actually dying for oxygen! However, although it was very challenging, it was the best and most fun role I’ve ever played onstage. I performed in the Sunday matinee show so I was able to watch IB’s show on Saturday night, and I remember the entire time just being so anxious and excited to perform the next day. I absolutely love Act II of Coppélia, because although there isn’t much dancing involved, there is so much acting, excitement, and energy. It was such a joy to dance and act alongside my incredible friends in this scene, and being able to partner with one of my best friends, Gabriel Paluszak, in Act I & III obviously made the experience so much more memorable. That is definitely the most wonderful thing about performing onstage: getting to share the experience with so many incredible people!
IBA: You were asked this before, when you were “Student of the Month” a few years back, but let’s see if your answer has changed. Complete this sentence. "Ballet would be better without _____________."
LA: Worrying about my sickled feet!
(Interviewer's Note: Lydia's answer in 2015 was breaking in new point shoes.)
IBA: Who inspires you?
LA: My biggest inspiration for my dancing is all of the wonderful and amazing people I dance with each and every day. Their hard work, dedication, persistence, and passion towards everything they set their minds to is so inspirational, and I look up to them in every aspect of my life. Although we have a competitive bond, especially my sister and I, we also have a supportive and truly genuine bond. I’m so honored and grateful I have been able to grow up with the absolute best group of people, friends, and dancers that I have ever met, and I know that no matter where we all end up in life, my friends will never stop inspiring me to keep growing and challenging myself each day.
IBA: Many see you as a role model for other students at IBA. What advice do you have for younger ballet students?
LA: The wisest advice I have ever heard was said to me by Mr. Alex [Tressor]. He told the morning class on his last day that no matter what someone tries to tell you in your life, always stick to what you believe in, because you are the best judge of yourself. I think the most important thing to remember is that even on the days you are feeling down, YOU are the best you there can ever be, so only you can decide what the next step and the new goal in your life will become. Sometimes ballet has frustrating days, but if we are bold and work hard to break barriers we may encounter in the future, there will always be a way over, around, or through them. The only true obstacle we face in life is ourselves and our own confidence. So, remember to always work hard in ballet class and always stay inspired by the things you are passionate about. Anything and everything that challenges you to become a better version of yourself is worth fighting for; so, remember that in our lives, we must be a little like a turtle - to move, we must stick our necks out to meet our challenges with grace and dignity. J
IBA: Finally, Lydia, congratulations on your decision to enroll in the Dance Program and Honors College at the University of South Carolina! What are some of things (other than location and in-state tuition) that drew you to apply to the USC dance program?
LA: Thank you so much! I am so incredibly nervous, but also so thrilled to step into the exciting world of college. Although many decisions led me to choose the University of South Carolina, one of the main reasons that led me to this school was their Honors College. It is definitely one of the best in the nation, and I have always valued my education just as equally as my ballet training. I’m eager to be able to work on both of my two passions during my time at USC. Also, some of the best dancers I know (several International Ballet alumni, in fact!) have gone through the University’s dance program, and I look forward to following in the footsteps of such great dancers and friends.
IBA: Thank you, Lydia. Again, congratulations on your high school graduation and your achievements. We will miss you at IBA, but we look forward to watching you bloom wherever your path leads you..
LA: Thank you! It’s been an honor being able to train at such an amazing school for the past 14 years.