Grishko Rising Star
Nicole Zadra’s story shows what can be accomplished through a combination of perseverance, determination and creative problem-solving.
Nicole,18, was accepted last summer into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive, on a merit scholarship. Expecting to spend just a few weeks at the intensive in New York, instead, she was invited to apply for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth’s immersion program with the Bolshoi in Moscow. A program of the Russian American Foundation and funded by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, NSLI-Y is a full-scholarship program based on what Nicole calls a “rigorous application process (including) high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, an essay and an interview.” She spent six weeks in Moscow living at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy where she took daily ballet and Russian language classes.
The summer program had been a dream come true, but there was more to come. Shortly after her return home to Irvington, New York, Nicole heard from the Bolshoi. “While I was in ballet classes in Moscow, the director of the academy and Irina Sirova, chair of the classical department, came and watched us,” she recalls. “I had heard there was a chance some of us could get invited to attend year round, so I worked very hard. A few days after I arrived home, I received an invitation – I was completely surprised. I cried immediately with happiness!” She was invited to join the second-year class in the Russian class (not the international class), so that if she continued through the third year she would graduate on stage in front of companies prospecting for dancers.
Nicole was honored and excited, but didn’t know how she would be able to afford the tuition and living expenses. Her mother, Erina, is a sole-supporting single mother, and although she had always been able to support Nicole’s training (most recently at Manhattan Youth Ballet in New York), she wasn’t going to be able to pay for her to live and study in Russia.
But Nicole wasn’t giving up. “I Googled how to raise money and found GoFundMe,” she says. “At first, I thought there was no way I’d do this because it is embarrassing to ask for help. (But) being invited was a dream come true and I decided I had to try to make this happen.”
She created her GoFundMe page and shared it with Misty Copeland, whom she has always admired. “She has really been the only face in ballet for me, growing up, that I identified with, because I am a biracial African American. Also, I was always told by friends and teachers how much I resembled her.”
Nicole was thrilled when Copeland responded and shared her story, which helped garner funding. “She is the real deal! She truly cares and gives back and I hope to not only be an amazing dancer like her but to also (support) young minority dancers who, like me, have the odds of being a professional ballerina stacked against them,” Nicole says.
Despite her gifts, Nicole herself had faced some negativity about her prospects in ballet, Erina says. “But ever since she was little, Nicole’s attitude was ‘I’m going to prove that one wrong!'” Erina says. “She’s a very hard worker and very determined, and you can tell when she dances how much she loves it.”
After Copeland had shared Nicole’s story, she received a major donation from Questlove from The Roots. “It was a blessing,” Erina says. Questlove tweeted about Nicole, bringing even more donations, which were enough to augment Erina’s resources so that Nicole could begin her studies in October.
For her part, Erina is “living very frugally, saving every penny” in order to keep Nicole in Moscow. “It’s a big sacrifice, but it’s worth it,” she says. She misses Nicole, her only child, but maintains contact through daily texting and frequent Face Time.
Now, Nicole is facing yet another challenge: returning to Russia after summer break for the culminating year of her training. Erina plans to get a second job, but “the only way I can return is if I raise a lot more money very quickly,” Nicole says.
Nicole has been featured in the Huffington Post and Ebony magazine, and she maintains her GoFundMe page and blog, in hopes of finding more funding or attracting a sponsor.
Nicole has worn Grishko pointe shoes for about four years. When she started dancing in New York, “Judy fitted me (at Grishko NYC) and I have been wearing Ulanovas ever since. She took the time to make sure that I found the right shoe,” she says.
Much like Copeland, Nicole dreams of someday passing on the gifts she has received. “After becoming a professional, I would like to teach ballet and share my Bolshoi training and cultural experience in Moscow with young ballerinas who might not ever have the opportunity. I want to be a role model and show young girls that dreams can come true if they work hard and never give up.”
Although she would love to dance with a Russian company, she knows that it’s unlikely for an American. “I would be grateful to dance with any company in the U.S. or internationally,” she says. “As long as I am dancing, I will be happy.”