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Roanoke Ballet Theatre Student Headed To The Big Time

(L-R) Sandra Meythaler and Claire and Michael Kiser.
(L-R) Sandra Meythaler and Claire and Michael Kiser.

It was a toy – a stuffed ballerina bunny doll – that in part helped turn Claire Kiser into a dancer.  “All my friends were jealous…it was just really cool,” recalls Kiser. “Then I started taking classes.” Now the Roanoke Ballet Theatre student is really going places – in January the Blacksburg 8th grader will attend the prestigious Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington DC, where she will live, eat and sleep ballet for almost six months.

Kiser will also have time to study her normal subjects at the boarding school. She was one of only 72 selected, just one of five 8th graders. There were more than 1000 applicants for the spring semester at the school. Kiser probably dances “12 to 14 hours a week,” says her father, Michael Kiser, the director of development communications for Virginia Tech.

Claire Kiser has never wanted to stop dancing, despite the long practice hours and the drives to Roanoke to dance with Roanoke Ballet Theatre. “This has been what I wanted to do. Nothing is going to stop me from doing this.” Even a recent sprained ankle didn’t stop her. “It’s really intense. I don’t think people know how much of a workout it really is.”

Kiser has studied in the past at the Center for Dance in Blacksburg – owned by Carol Crawford Smith, whose home was rebuilt on ABC’s Extreme Makeover TV show several years ago.

Sandra Meythaler, executive director and artistic director for Roanoke Ballet Theatre, says many sign up for classes (3 years old and up) with the RBT very few have the gift that Kiser has demonstrated.  “There’s always one where you can see the fire in their eyes, that you know they want to be a professional,” says the native of Ecuador. As for Kiser, “we’re trying to give that opportunity to her.”

RBT has had dancers graduate to the professional ranks before, or go on to work as teachers and choreographers.  Being selected for the Kirov Academy “is a big opportunity for any young dancer,” says Meythaler. “We were very excited for her.”

Kiser went to a summer session at the Kirov and never had a formal audition, so the letter she received inviting her for the semester “was so unexpected.”  Kiser has been home-schooled all her life, so going away to room with other students – some from foreign countries – will be a new adventure.

“It’s a lot of time,” says Michael Kiser of the sacrifice Claire has made. “[But] we want our kids to be able to follow their dreams.” The Kisers told their daughter that if she ever lost the fire she could quit – but that hasn’t happened. “She really took advantage of that offer,” says Kiser, who has seen other benefits from his daughter’s dancing. “It’s really helped Claire sharpen her focus on what she wants to achieve. Ballet…requires a lot of precision and focus.”

“I’m so excited…I just cannot wait,” says Claire of her upcoming time at the Kirov Academy. “You have to really commit yourself.” Attending the Kirov Academy isn’t cheap and the Kisers have set up a fund to help defray the cost. Contributions can be sent to: One Dancer’s Dream, PO Box 11141, Blacksburg, Va 24062.

RBT’s Halloween Happening: A night of ghosts, sirens, dancing zombies and vampires – courtesy of Roanoke Ballet Theatre – on Friday, October 23 at 7 p.m., at William Fleming High School’s new auditorium. Tickets are $5. Guest dancers from other companies will join the RBT on stage, as will local musicians. (See

By Gene Marrano
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