2006-06-02 / Front Page

Athlete turned dancer to compete

By Rachel Haynie

Brooklyn Mack was first drawn to ballet thinking it would help him be a better athlete, but when he became a better dancer, he had to make a choice - ball or ballet. Brooklyn Mack was first drawn to ballet thinking it would help him be a better athlete, but when he became a better dancer, he had to make a choice - ball or ballet. Center stage at an international ballet festival was not where a scrappy Elgin basketball player envisioned his life playing out, but that's where Brooklyn Mack will be later this month.

The world-renowned competition in Jackson, Miss. is, for the most talented dancers, a passport to possibilities.

"Such a diverse audience sees you in Jackson; people come from all over the world," said Mack, cooling down from one of his demanding practices with Columbia Classical Ballet Company's artistic director Radenko Pavlovick. The ballet school owner was Mack's first ballet teacher and, for this competition, his personal coach.

Most recently Mack competed to top finalist level in the Helsinki International Ballet Competition where he received the Kirsti Paakkanen Award. His passport already has been stamped in Japan when he went as guest soloist with Sapporo City Ballet. In Caracas, Venezuela, he represented his art with Nina Novak's Ballet Classico de Camara.

Brooklyn Mack was first drawn to ballet thinking it would help him be a better athlete, but when he became a better dancer, he had to make a choice - ball or ballet. By then, he recalled, he was hooked. "Like wisteria, it just grew around me."Brooklyn Mack was first drawn to ballet thinking it would help him be a better athlete, but when he became a better dancer, he had to make a choice - ball or ballet. By then, he recalled, he was hooked. "Like wisteria, it just grew around me." On his own continent Mack has won awards over several years and several divisions at the Youth America Grand Prix. His technical skill and work ethic afforded him an opportunity to train at the prestigious Kirov Academy (now Universal Ballet Academy) in Washington, DC. His classical repertoire earned the former backyard ballplayer an apprenticeship with Joffrey Ballet, and last year he joined American Ballet Theatre Studio Company in New York.

Mack explained, "Competitors choose among well-known ballet pieces from a provided list. That means any number of other dancers could be doing the same piece as you. You just have to do yours better." Audience rapport has always been an edge Mack could achieve. When he came home in January to guest in LifeChance Ballet, Columbia Classical Ballet's annual charity event, Mack was an audience favorite. Being on stage there was where it all started.

"My school came to LifeChance on a field trip. I saw how athletic those New York dancers were, and that opened my eyes. I saw how high those guys could jump and thought ballet would help me, so when I first told my mom I wanted to take dance lessons, it was so I could be a better athlete," said Mack, whose afternoons in those days were jammed with jump shots.

Mack had no idea at that time his request to take ballet tapped into his mother's secret passion. "She had trained in ballet herself in Connecticut and had danced in California and Germany. When she got married and had us - my sisters Sabrina and Rachael, and my brother Marcus - she put that dream aside. So she knew what she was looking for when she began checking out dance schools. She brought me to Radenko."

Pavlovich's decades of experience enable him to spot potential when it walks in the door. Of Mack he was dubious. Pavlovich recalled Mack's feet were a mess, "but when I saw his determination, saw him work, I thought 'maybe.' He would take the bus from Elgin, walk all the way to the studio in Forest Lake, practice hard, then walk back to meet his mother when she finished her nursing shift at Providence Hospital. Now he is not only a very good dancer; he is a very good young man."

In Jackson, Mack will practice the most important lesson Pavlovich ever taught him. "I will be focused," said Mack.

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