Cami Ortloff pauses in the hallway of Brooklyn’s Gelsey Kirkland Academy, where she will dance in “The Nutcracker” next month. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

Cami Ortloff pauses in the hallway of Brooklyn’s Gelsey Kirkland Academy, where she will dance in “The Nutcracker” next month. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles dancer rehearses for New York production

  • By Diane Urbani de la Paz For Peninsula Daily News
  • Sunday, November 20, 2016 7:26pm
  • LifeClallam County

By Diane Urbani de la Paz

For Peninsula Daily News

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — High above Flatbush Avenue in a snug one-bedroom apartment, Cami Ortloff’s day begins with scrambled eggs, eggs from a grocery 43 floors below. The teenager is fueling up for eight hours of exercises and rehearsals, followed by an evening of high school on the internet.

Ortloff, who marked her 18th birthday this month, is a dancer at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet some 2,935 miles from her Port Angeles home.

Cami, the daughter of Kim and Todd Ortloff, is a woman of few words and a reservoir of determination. Her morning regimen includes those eggs but no caffeine.

At 8 a.m., she and her two roommates, also teenaged academy dancers, pack sandwiches and fruit for lunch and walk out into New York City’s most populous borough of 2.6 million residents.

They could take the subway, but sometimes it’s quicker to walk the 20 minutes to the Academy in DUMBO (the portmanteau for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass”), a neighborhood flanking the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

She stows her backpack and lunch and starts class at 8:30 a.m.: first comes core dynamics, then ballet technique and pointe.

The day rolls on with rehearsals for the academy’s lavish production of “The Nutcracker,” in which Ortloff will appear in the Snow Scene, the March of the Toy Soldiers, the Arabian Dance and the Russian Dance.

She finishes around 5:15 p.m. unless there’s a costume fitting, which could run past 6 p.m. Then it’s home for homework in classes including psychology, British literature and calculus, all from the Laurel Springs online high school.

For dinner, it’s often pasta, a carbo-loading meal for the next morning’s marathon. Homework and “Nutcracker” discussions with the roommates go on till 10 p.m., at which time the lights are turned out, but the urban clamor down on the avenue does not stop.

This is Ortloff’s senior year of high school and her second year at the ballet academy.

An alumna of the Port Angeles Dance Center and Sequim Ballet school, she moved to New York City in September 2015 for her first year here after winning acceptance into Kirkland’s professional training program. She spent last summer back home in Port Angeles, then flew back East this fall.

The dancers will have Thanksgiving Day off, and then rehearsals will spill over into the weekends. Ortloff will join her family’s Thanksgiving dinner via FaceTime, and as an avid baker, she’ll make a pumpkin pie.

“‘Nutcracker’ rehearsal time is intense, and Thanksgiving is two weeks before the first performance. They don’t want the dancers to lose focus with an extended absence from the studio,” said Kim Ortloff.

Opening night is Dec. 8 at the academy’s Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center.

“Rehearsals are going well,” added the dancer.

“The best thing about being part of the production, for me, is having the opportunity to learn the big professional corps de ballet pieces,” like the Snow Scene and the Waltz of the Flowers.

“The hardest part,” she added, “is probably the pressure that we have on us to perform our roles perfectly. Even though we are only students in the academy, we are putting on a professional production with professional choreography, so there is really no room for error as there would be in an amateur school show.”

Ortloff’s teachers include Kirkland herself, who rose to fame in the role of Clara in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s 1977 televised production of “The Nutcracker.”

Ortloff also works with teachers and company dancers from Russia, Denmark, Brazil, Argentina, Japan and Israel.

Seated at her kitchen counter on a recent evening, Ortloff, posture elegant and neck swanlike, acknowledged that her days are long.

She’s not one to run out during lunch breaks for a coffee and croissant at a nearby cafe, though. She does text her mother in the evenings, but she’s not big on Facebook. Saturday nights, she likes to watch movies on her laptop computer.

When asked, Ortloff said she thinks about — worries about — the future all the time. She could continue at the academy; she could switch to a university to perhaps pursue her interest in brain science.

Last year, “she grew so much, as a dancer and a person,” Kim Ortloff said.

This year, she returned wiser, having learned that chasing a dream “is not always easy and not always fun. But hard work and determination pay off … she learned self-care, independence [and] time management,” along with the broad outlook that life in a huge city gives.

Her parents, along with Ortloff’s Sequim Ballet teacher Laurel Herrera, will travel to New York City to see “The Nutcracker.” It will run through Dec. 18, and the dancers will have a couple of weeks off for Christmas. Then training continues, along with online high school, till June.

Herrera well remembers how Ortloff comported herself back in Sequim. Her student was “very quiet. She’s also very gracious, always,” she added.

When the Port Angeles student first arrived at Sequim Ballet, she walked into a roomful of girls who’d been dancing there since they were first-graders.

“They were real cliquey,” Herrera recalled, but Ortloff didn’t let that bother her.

“She’s never had an attitude.”

As for Kim and Todd, they marvel at their girl’s grit.

“The world of professional ballet training teaches discipline [and] inner strength,” said Kim.

“My hope for her is that she takes this year to learn more about who she is and what she is capable of, and that she will apply all she has learned to whatever adventures lie ahead.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Angeles.

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