Brooklyn Mack -- Dancing Saturday Night at Lifechance

I'm sure my kids hate it when I reference their younger days in blog posts and lectures and the like, and every time I do, I'm aware that they may be uncomfortable. But then I remember how much we spoiled them when they were small and I decide, screw it, they can take one for the team. This is one of those times.

When Annie and Bonnie were little girls and they temporarily left Columbia City Ballet's junior company to dance for and learn from Radenko Pavlovich's Columbia Classical Ballet, (I say temporarily because Bonnie is back at City now and Annie stopped dancing in high school), there was this amazingly sweet boy who had also just come to dance there who we all immediately fell in love with.

His name was Brooklyn Mack.

Brooklyn was tall and shy and, to be honest, less than graceful, and his feet seemed to get in the way of his dancing. He had a smile that was almost too big for his face and he sometimes seemed to try to hide it when he was tickled by something someone said or did.

All the kids there were young and raw,  and despite their parents opinions -- mine included -- there didn't appear to be any world-class dancers chasing one another around the studios at Pavlovich's, or popping down the walkway to buy and share cheesy bread from Little Caesar's Pizza.

But there was Brooklyn. At 12, not yet well-trained or even very talented, but with a degree of determination that made all the other kids pale. Over and over he would endure Pavlovich's not-always-gentle corrections. "Point your bah-nah-nahs! Point your bah-nah-nahs!" Pavlovich would scream at the boy in his Serbian accent to point his quite large toes and feet.

Brooklyn would internalize his corrections without letting them beat him down. Like most ballet instructors who frequently question the self-worth of the individuals in their tutelage, Pavlovich showed no mercy to Brooklyn -- which was fine, because Brooklyn didn't want it. Though sensitive and kind, he was tough. And even as a boy, he demonstrated the kind of integrity that made me feel that it was an honor to call him a friend of our family.

Brooklyn didn't stay long at Pavlovich's. Radenko has a reputation for wisely sending his talented students on to study elsewhere and he did so with Brooklyn, as well. After just a few years he felt Brooklyn was ready to move on so he made arrangements for the still young boy to move to Washington, DC and attend the Kirov Ballet Academy. On full scholarship. When Brooklyn graduated from the Kirov, he got a choice position dancing with the American Ballet Theatre's second company. And he traveled. He traveled literally all over the world dancing in Asia and Europe and South America, and competing in competitions where he rarely left without a medal around his neck. (He made the cover of Dance Europe in 2009 and was just named by Dance Magazine as one of 25 young dancers to watch in 2012.) He finally landed at Washington Ballet three years ago where he dances in a troupe of extraordinarily gifted dancers.

And this weekend, Brooklyn is traveling back to Columbia where he will dance once again for his mentor and with the company that gave him his start. I cannot recommend enough that you go see the Lifechance Ballet Gala this Saturday night at the Koger Center. I wrote a little ditty on it for Free Times here, where you'll find most of the info you need to know to go.

What you'll see will be an exciting night of some of the best, most athletic, most inspiring ballet you will have seen in quite some time, both from Brooklyn and his colleagues. But look closely when the young man finishes his dances -- he doesn't try to hide his smile as much any more -- and I think he learned a long time ago that his integrity shines through no matter what.