Clicking with the Music

16-year-old already has made a career of dancing – and now she’s creating her own moves

From Champaign News-Gazette
By Jodi Heckel

Becky Ramos dances across the studio floor in a series of jumps, her ruffled red skirt floating out around her, a smile on her face, her arms gracefully extended.

The music changes and she moves across the floor in a series of pirouettes, then ends with several jumps.

The only evidence of the hard work beneath the graceful exterior is the thump-thump of her toe shoes on the wood floor and her heavy breathing with she finishes.

“This variation is exhausting,” said her teacher, Luciana Rezende, after asking Becky if she needed a breather and some water. “Thank goodness she likes jumps.”

Becky, 16, has been dancing since she was 3, when her mother enrolled her in a half-hour park district dance class for children.

“Now we’re up to how many hours a week?” asked Becky’s mom, Phyllis Ramos.

“Too many,” Becky replied, before estimating she spends 16 to 18 hours a week in dance classes at the Christine Rich Studio in Savoy. She also teaches five classes herself.

She studies ballet and jazz, although she sometimes does some hip-hop or modern dance classes.

During the school year, Becky takes classes from 4 to 9 every weeknight. She also takes a class on Saturdays.

“She’s a very hard worker,” Rezende said. “She’s very young, but she works like a professional.”

“She knows how to fight for steps,” she said. “If she realizes her approach to a particular pirouette or step isn’t working, she doesn’t try it 50 times hoping. Instead she thinks, ‘This is going to work right now,’ and the next time she gets it.”

“She always surprises me with what she can handle. She will do much more than I expect.”

All the practice means a lot of late nights doing homework, though, says her mom. Becky is nervous about how she’ll handle her dancing and the tougher classes she’ll be taking during her junior year this fall at Centennial High School.

She did gymnastics as well when she was younger but gave it up about six years ago. She didn’t have the time for it, with all the dancing, and it was physically harder because of the falls.

And Becky wanted to keep dancing with her partner, 16-year-old Andrew Cribbett. The two have been dancing together since Becky was 6 ¼.

“They started so young, they just know each other,” Phyllis Ramos said. “They know each other’s rhythm and how they move.”

“I trust him a lot,” Becky said. “And there are not many other guys.”

As much as she enjoys dancing with Andrew, she prefers to dance solo.

“When you’re with a partner, you have to make sure you are with the music and you have to be together,” she said. “With a solo, if you get off, you can recover and catch up and (the audience) can’t tell.”

Not that it happens often. One of her strengths, Rezende said, is her musicality.

“She never gets lost in the music,” Rezende said. “She knows exactly when to make a fraction-of-a-second stop, to wait for the right time to move ahead.”

Her other strengths are her jumps and turns. “She’s a natural jumper who can leap high,” Rezende said. She chose two ballet variations for Becky that emphasize jumps and turns for upcoming ballet competitions. The music has a fast, upbeat tempo. That’s more her style than slow movements.

“It makes you feel you have more energy to keep going,” Becky said.

She’ll perform at the Youth American Grand Prix competition in February. Phyllis Ramos describes it as the Olympics of ballet competitions. Dancers from all over the world come to New York City for the finals. Becky will dance in a regional competition in Chicago in February to try to qualify for the finals. She’s made it twice before, in 2005 with a jazz duet with Andrew, and in 2006 with solos in ballet and jazz.

While placing well in the competition is a worthy goal, the real prize is to be offered a scholarship from a ballet company for a summer intensive program. Last year, Becky auditioned for summer programs and was accepted by the San Francisco Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater schools. She didn’t go – her parents thought she was too young, and she had attended the auditions for experience only.

She had hoped to get into the San Francisco program this summer, but she couldn’t audition because she had ankle surgery during the winter.

Last fall, in an acrobatics dance, she landed a back handspring and felt her ankle pop.

She kept dancing, thinking it was a sprain. It hurt pretty badly, but she kept icing it and taking ibuprofen. When it didn’t get better, she had it checked out and found out she had torn a ligament. She had surgery to repair it last December and was in a cast for awhile, then a boot.

She had physical therapy and was back to her usual dance class schedule by April. Now she’s looking toward the Grand Prix competition, and she hopes to be in San Francisco next summer.

Dance has given her many opportunities, including travel and the opportunity to work with world-class dancers and choreographers, including Ben Vereen and Mark Morris.

She’s started doing her own choreography, for jazz routines.

“You have to click with the music. The music kind of takes me and tells me what to do when I’m dancing,” Becky said. “If you choreographed it, you can kind of change it up. When (someone else has) choreographed it, it has to be exactly what they want.”

Phyllis Ramos is involved in Becky’s dancing as well – she has been making costumes for the last few years.

“You get to be creative and get swallowed up in netting and all that stuff,” she said.

She danced when she was young, but not as seriously as Becky has.

“She makes it look easy. She makes it look so natural,” Phyllis Ramos said. “I think she’s beautiful when she’s up there.”

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