View of the Viking: Schreiber’s resident ballerina: Isabella Henderson


Courtesy of Isabella Henderson

Isabella Henderson’s intense practice routine involves spending over 40 hours a week in her ballet studio on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Henderson balances this rehearsal schedule with a full Schreiber course load.

Brittany Polevikov and August Zeidman

Were you to meet senior Isabella Henderson, you might not assume that she spends close to 40 hours a week practicing ballet pre-professionally at Ballet Academy East in Manhattan. Six afternoons a week, this is where you can find her, practicing leaps and pliées. She has been serious about ballet since the age of seven when she enrolled in the School of American Ballet in Lincoln Center and since then has performed in productions of the New York City Ballet over 80 times.

This major commitment often conflicts with activities at Schreiber, but she makes it work. Isabella leaves school every day at the beginning of fifth period in order to make her train for the lengthy commute to the Upper East Side. This means she can’t always take as many classes as she would like but she feels that getting to do what she loves is worth any of these obstacles in balancing responsibilities. Because of this schedule juggling, she is practically in constant contact with her guidance counselor, Mr. Joseph Lorge, to make sure that all her classes are in order and all core subjects are included in her school day.

All of this means that she often does not get home until after 9 PM every night, which is a real sacrifice to make especially in high school when homework, social activities, and various other commitments can take up so much of a person’s day. Isabella makes it work by doing homework during her tedious 1.5 hour commute. However, there are some assignments which are impossible for her to do on the go, as they either require a textbook or computer or complete- resources which she only has access to at home. Isabella’s workload does not hinder her ability to take 3 hours’ worth of classes every day, but this wasn’t always the case.

In middle school, Isabella faced a significant amount of pressure when transitioning into the rigorous balancing act of ballet and school. She ended up enrolling in homeschooling by eighth grade in order to fully accommodate her rigorous training schedule. To Isabella’s surprise, being a student by day and ballerina by night became easier to handle with age. Despite the mounting pressure and workload which comes with each mounting grade, Isabella’s work ethic became stronger than ever.

“I think that modified schedule coupled with the experience of having balanced everything for such a long time has really helped. In fact, I find pursuing ballet makes me more productive. I find that the days I don’t attend ballet class, I am less productive, and vice versa,” says Isabella.

As if her dedication to balancing school and her passion for ballet was not evident in the many sacrifices Isabella has made throughout the week, she spends Sundays- her only off day in the week- catching up on schoolwork and preparing for the following Monday.

School is always a priority and, although she used to, Isabella no longer aims to become a professional ballerina. While nothing like the film  Black Swan, ballet is an extremely cutthroat industry and is not necessarily a healthy environment to work in. The level of competition and pressure placed on people to maintain a certain physique and weight even in the pre-professional level is incredible and can quickly become overwhelming. Additionally, the career does not hold much in terms of length, and any dancer is lucky to still be in the game by 30. These high stakes prove to be unrealistic for Isabella, who hopes to explore other areas of interest when her time as a ballerina is complete. Nevertheless, she will always keep the lessons she learned from ballet, such as discipline and mastering of multitasking, in her life.

“One thing I know for sure is that I will always incorporate everything I’ve learned from ballet into the rest of my life. I don’t regret any of the time and effort I’ve put into it, and I’ll always have a deep love for it. Regardless of what I end up doing later on in life, I know that being a ballerina has been an experience that has helped me become the individual I am meant to be.”

Performing is definitely her favorite aspect of ballet and, according to her, allows her to feel free and without inhibitions. Articulating her steps with the music is just another aspect of ballet which takes years to refine, and is ultimately the result of not only attention to technique but the guidance of incredible teachers. Isabella’s teachers and mentors hail from companies as wide reaching as the American Ballet Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and more. These opportunities have been an invaluable experience and continue to inspire her to continue in her dancing.

Though hard work, commitment, and balance are all overarching themes of Isabella’s teenage years, the word which comes to mind when thinking of Isabella’s life as a ballerina is sacrifice. Isabella has had to sacrifice her life as a “normal teen”, missing sleepovers, concerts, and even the chance to participate in something as simple as school clubs with her peers. However, this does not concern Isabella in the slightest. She knows that she has a strong support system of friends and family to keep her motivated, and her love for ballet to remind her why she makes the sacrifices she does on a daily basis. Isabella’s determination and accomplishments are one’s which are extremely admirable, and provide a view from a Schreiber Viking that would otherwise not be seen.