As dancers arrived one by one at the Dance Center, home of the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio, the students began their warm up routines, gracefully executing classic steps in pointe shoes. The challenging rehearsal revealed the intense training the company provides its students. The Children’s Ballet is a professional-level dance company, bridging the gap between young student and adult professional dancer by providing dancers ages 7-18 opportunities for advanced training and performances.

Children join the ballet by audition or invitation only. Founded by its Artistic Director Vanessa Bessler, the Children’s Ballet serves to showcase the talent and skills of young dancers, allowing dancers as young as eight to dance in lead roles for professionally staged productions. Established in June 2015, the ballet company has successfully staged two productions to date, the traditional Nutcracker last fall and Sleeping Beauty in April, both held at the Scottish Rite Theatre.

“The mission of The Children’s Ballet of San Antonio,” Bessler said, “is to inspire the pursuit of excellence and prepare children for productive and creative lives through dance by offering extensive training and performance opportunities for talented children from all backgrounds.”

Bessler is a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Panama and is a Bolshoi Ballet certified teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience. In February, Bessler received the Outstanding Teacher Award at the Youth America Grand Prix competition in Austin, a top-level competition that identifies the most promising young dance talent around the world. This award recognizes the instructor based on the performance and participation of their students.

Emma Hurtado performs at Zoo La La as the sun sets. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Emma Hurtado performs at Zoo La La as the sun sets. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Bessler’s list of students who have done well in ballet competitions is long. Children’s Ballet dancers have been highly commended at the Grand Prix, receiving awards, recognitions and scholarships.

Callie Tibbetts, 12, has placed three years in a row in the top 12 Grand Prix finalists since she was nine years old. Kate Thomas, 11, ranked in third place in the 2016 Grand Prix in Houston and was invited to compete in the 2016 finals in New York against the top dancers in the world.

After students place in the top ranked finalists, dancers are typically offered scholarships to attend prestigious ballet workshops and summer intensive scholarships at places such as the Bolshoi Academy, and with ballet company schools in Orlando, Houston and Nashville. Older dancers have been accepted into professional ballet companies and competitive college dance programs.

After placing as a top 12 finalist in the 2014 Grand Prix in Houston, the 2016 event in Austin and again in Houston this year, Lucy Hassmann, 13, was awarded a full scholarship to the Houston Ballet Academy summer intensive workshop. Once Emma Hurtado, 12, placed in the top 12 this year at Houston, she was given a partial scholarship to the Bolshoi summer intensive workshop in New York.

“We aspire to be the YOSA (Youth Orchestra of San Antonio) of ballet for young students in the San Antonio area,” Bessler said.

After dance performances at the San Antonio Zoo Zoo La-La gala on May 19, I asked the dancers how long they had been studying ballet. Most of the young dancers started ballet at three years of age. However, Lexi Dalrymple, 13, started only one year ago at 12.

Grace Phillips performs a piece from Cinderella. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Grace Phillips performs a piece from Cinderella. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

“My friends like (current Children’s Ballet dancer) Emma (Hurtado) got me interested in starting ballet,” Dalrymple said. “Now, I’m (dancing) on pointe — Ms. Bessler drives me to do my best.”

While some of the dancers enjoy ballet for now, others are intent on building a career.

Mackenzie Kirsch, 12, already knows she wants to pursue dance professionally.

“I like going to the dance competitions,” Kirsch said. “It’s a great experience to compete, to attend dance workshops and get to dance at other ballet companies.”

Catolina Barrera, 16, wants to embrace a profession she loves, and the Children’s Ballet gives her the pathway to a career in professional dance once she’s 18.

“I have my heart set on becoming a professional dancer,” Barrera said. “And I can do that from here, in San Antonio.”

Promising students like Barrera and Kirsch highlight the importance of a professional-level ballet company for young dancers in San Antonio. There are six professional ballet companies in Texas. While most offer classes and workshops for children, none accept students under 18 as permanent dancers in their company.

The program provides serious students of dance opportunities to continue professional-level training while becoming experienced in onstage performance as a member of a ballet company specifically designed for children, with many performing leading roles at early ages.

San Antonio benefits from nonprofit organizations like YOSA and the Children’s Ballet that enrich the lives of not only its children, but of audience members attending these performances.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio, two full scholarships are available to female dancers who apply “as a way to give back to the community that supports our dancers and performances,” Bessler said. As part of the anniversary celebration, full scholarships to train in classical ballet are available to talented boys.

The Children’s Ballet will offer summer intensive dance workshops with master dance teachers Alexei Moskalenko of the Bolshoi Ballet Company, now at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory; Mikhail Tchoupakov of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, currently at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; Carlos Dos Santos, Jr of Alvin Ailey; and Sally Rojas Herrera of the Houston Ballet Company.

For more information about scholarship opportunities or to sign up for summer dance workshops, call 210-540-8398 or email

*Top image: Emma Hurtado performs at Zoo La La as the sun sets.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.


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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.