by Meghan Ross
From 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. six days a week, you can find Juan Castellanos leaping, lifting and spinning at the Metropolitan Ballet Academy in Jenkintown after a full day of challenging academic schoolwork at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH).
For Juan, who has been dancing since the age of 5, the hard work has paid off. Juan has earned a fully paid summer intensive with the Charlotte (North Carolina) Ballet under Artistic Director Laszlo Berdo and will spend next year as an academy trainee, also with a full scholarship. In addition, the SCH senior recently served as a visiting dancer at the Juneau (Alaska) Dance Theatre with Artistic Director Zachary Hench for a week this February. As a guest artist, Juan helped prepare students for several shows in April.
“In the ballet, I was able to partner and work with two girls, and in less than a week’s time we were able to put together a solid pas de deux,” Juan said. “At first, dancing with someone new is somewhat challenging because you’re trying to get to know them and how they like to be partnered. With enough rehearsal time, we eventually got used to each other, and it instantly made the dancing portion that much easier and fun.”
Executive Director of the Juneau Ballet Bridget Foran Lujan characterized Juan as polite, kind and “an exceptional young man and talented dancer.”
Juan meanwhile said the experience in Alaska was especially exciting because he was able to have a completely new audience see him dance. He also enjoyed his time working with Lalo Berdo, the ballet master he will be working with in Charlotte next year.
“This is probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done in terms of guesting for another school,” he said. “Getting to work with other people and new schools is really exciting.”
“What this indicates is that Juan has already caught peoples’ eye as someone who has the potential for a big future,” SCH Director of the Arts and New Media Ellen Fishman said. “It’s the beginning of what can be a really wonderful profession.”
Not only does Juan manage to balance a rigorous academic program at SCH, long hours dancing at the academy with Artistic Director Lisa Collins Vidnovic, service in SCH’s community council and student leadership team, he also plays a foundational role in the all-male a cappella group Hilltones, a fact that impresses both Dr. Fishman and music teacher Roland Woehr.
“Always a fantastic singer and now the core singer for the bass section of Hilltones, Juan does more than sing; he serves,” Woehr said of Juan. “He sings with power and precision and serves with candor and kindness. He is a gem.”
These attributes — power, precision and kindness — are imbued in all of Juan’s work, no matter if it’s on the stage, in the classroom or at the studio. His power and precision can be seen in his signature jumps, in the sharpness of his lines and in his beats (when the dancer jumps into the air and rapidly crosses his or her legs). His kindness and gratitude can be seen in his relationships with SCH faculty and staff who celebrate him and allow for flexibility in his schedule to attend auditions and shows — all in service to the school’s mission to expand students’ full academic and personal potential.
“They’re very supportive,” Juan said. “My friends, teachers, the administration, everywhere I go, they’re always checking up on me, asking about the next show or my career.”
Juan said what he loves about ballet is its intensity, and he especially enjoys contemporary ballet, where dancers can have more personal artistic freedom with their movement. “I love how hard it is,” he said. “When you’re able to master a step or combination and it looks and feels good, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
From 2009 to 2012, Juan danced the role of Fritz in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” for the Pennsylvania Ballet at the Academy of Music and on Canadian Tour. In 2011, he danced in “Anna Karenina” for the Mariinsky Ballet at Lincoln Center Festival. He has also danced with the Wilmington Balley Academy from 2013 to 2015 at the Dupont Theatre; with the Moscow Ballet in 2016 at the Annenberg Center; and with the South Jersey Ballet Company from 2016 to 2018.
Castellanos will also be performing with fellow members of the Metropolitan Ballet Company on Saturday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in Variations/Collaborations, an evening of contemporary and classical dance with live music by Settlement Music School students. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. You can purchase tickets online at metballet.ticketleap.com
Meghan Ross is a Senior Communications Associate for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org