Josh Fourkiller
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH – Three Cherokee ballerinas from the Academy of Performing Arts in Tahlequah, Oklahoma have been chosen to participate in an elite Russian ballet training program in Washington.

The program is a rigorous, five-week long classical ballet intensive for serious dancers that will take place June 20 through July 25.

“There were three girls that are currently training with the Academy of Performing Arts that have been selected to participate in the Kirov Summer Intensive. Their names are Reece Cowart, Lacy Ullrich, and Kassandra Mankiller,” said Lena Huffman, owner of the Academy of Performing Arts and a ballet instructor.

All three girls are Cherokee Nation citizens and are excited to represent not only their dance academy but their tribe as well.

“It’s really important to me. I feel like, actually in my dancing after all these years, I’ve accomplished something,” Cowart said.

Auditions for the intensive are usually held at central hub locations, but this year all auditions were done via Zoom.

“They had auditioners from all over the world, and so to know that three of our girls from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, got recognized for their ability and that I got recognized for my teaching skills through them, it is a very nice moment,” Huffman said.

As the girls train and prepare for the program, they are beginning to look ahead to what the future holds for them in the world of ballet.

“My future goals are, I would like to continue my training in college, hopefully, and maybe try for a professional career or teaching,” Mankiller said.

Ullrich also has future goals in ballet that may involve teaching.

“It would be fun to do some teaching with it or be a professional ballet person,” she said.

A Go Fund Me account has been started for the girls to help raise the funds needed to attend the Kirov Summer Intensive. The cost of the intensive is $8000 per student, which includes tuition, room and board. All funds donated will go directly to helping each dancer complete the training program. 

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This article was originally published in the Cherokee Phoenix