Artist or athlete? Those are two sides of the prism ballet dancer Danelle Tucker is viewed through when the real answer to that question is: “Both.” Tucker is a dancer with Ballet Tucson in Arizona, but she was also student athlete of the year at her high school in Calgary, a sports school filled with nothing but athletes!
Tucker became the first dancer to win the athlete of the year award at Edge School in 2016. Her selection above hockey and soccer classmates was a sign of great things to come as she carried on to study at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Pennsylvania before landing her first professional contract in Tucson.
“It was the best feeling ever to get recognized for that (athletic) aspect of my career, and not just for being an artist,” she says.
After her first performance at age two and a half, motivated by the prospect of a Smarties candy reward from her mother, Tucker became hooked on ballet. And she has been dancing through life ever since. Fuelled by her passion — and still enjoying her Smarties — Tucker attended the International School of Ballet in Calgary where her teacher, Urman Sumen, told her: “You will dance, Danelle.”
In Pittsburgh, under artistic director Terrance Orr, Tucker was cast in George Balanchine’s Serenade as well as in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Soon after, she began her professional dance career in Tucson, where she landed a role as an apprentice at the remarkably young age of 18.
Tucker’s days as a professional dancer are jam-packed. As a ballerina, the foundation of her craft is built on fitness — cardiac endurance and core strength. Every morning she wakes up at 6:30 a.m. and puts on her athlete hat to start training in the gym. She runs every day for an hour, does core exercises and yoga and takes time for meditation.
Other time is spent watching, learning and rehearsing the choreography of different roles for upcoming productions. At any point, a company dancer could get injured or fall ill, and it’s Tucker’s job as an apprentice to be ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
The young ballerina is determined to spend her next five years in the stage light, no matter what it takes. “You’re going to be told ‘no’ a lot in this career, so you’ve got to find that drive to push on within yourself.”