Ballet is half athleticism, half artistry and fully 14-year-old Julianna Varner’s passion. The Traverse City local is a seriously talented ballerina. She studies the art form at Interlochen Arts Academy and just returned home from a summer spent training in New York City.
Julianna grew up in Traverse City and is a part of the ten percent of locals that make it into prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy. She skipped 8th grade to do it.
“She got a 4.0,” Julianna’s mom Jill Varner said. “She works really really hard and she’s driven.”
Julianna’s love for ballet sprouted at a young age. She started taking ballet lessons when she was three years old. She’s always been immersed in multiple activities, like soccer or horseback riding but if it ever began to interfere with her ballet she would stop. Julianna was attending GTACS schools until last year when she auditioned to join Interlochen’s dance program.
“They had two days where they had everyone come audition that were here locally,” Julianna said. “There were a few of us actually, there were about 10 dancers who came and basically did a day in the life at Interlochen. It was so cool because I was 12 years old at the time.”
Julianna had a magical first year at Interlochen. She and her fellow dance students performed Swan Lake and were able to perform it all over the state of Michigan.
Julianna’s talent took her to New York City for the past seven weeks. She had a packed schedule that required her full mental and physical for about 12 hours a day. She participated in the 2019 Summer Intensive at the Ellison Ballet School. The program is used to hone and detail participant’s ballet ability. Intensive is the perfect word for the course.
“If you messed up, even barely, they would stop the class and make you re-do it.”
This kind of nit-picking is what helps ballerinas grow and the kind of training that will separate good ballerinas from great ones. Julianna said she didn’t mind the critiques at all, they were actually one of her favorite aspects of the program.
The program won’t allow just anybody to participate. Applicants have to audition to have a shot at getting chosen, they also have to have a strong background in ballet already. Julianna fits the criteria and has the talent to match.
Not only did Julianna do the Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive, she also trained in the Ellison Ballet Classical Variation Intensive, another rigorous training program that focuses on perfect precision and form. Beyond both of those demanding courses, Julianna was also chosen as an Outstanding Dancer for New York City Dance Alliance. Julianna successfully competed for the Outstanding Dancer scholarship regionally in both Lansing and Chicago. The scholarship afforded her a third summer opportunity in New York City. Did I mention this young lady has passion for what she does?
Balancing the three different dance workshops made Julianna’s time in New York City jam packed. She and her mother Jill Varner lived in a local apartment during their stay. They enjoyed that the building had a library in it, but Julianna is definitely a Michigan girl used to Northern Michigan summers with fresh air.
“It’s crazy, it’s very hot in New York City. One time we got on the weather app and it said…poor air quality,” Julianna said, genuinely surprised. “It was nuts.”
Julianna woke up at 6 every morning in New York City and wouldn’t finish training until 6 in the evening. Her training was mostly focused on classical technique, but she was also able to venture out beyond ballet and work with contemporary and character dance. At the end of the day she would return back to the apartment to relax with her mom and their dog Coconut, who got to come along for moral support.
It’s back to school soon for Julianna, but luckily for her she gets to immerse herself in her passion during the school day and she’ll have a lot to work on, the school is putting on two ballets this year, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty.
It is a true blessing to be able to live a passion, but it doesn’t make life any easier when you do in fact it, arguably makes life harder. Julianna is willing to do what it takes to keep her passion for ballet a part of her life forever.
“It’s amazing. I just love it. The artistry and you’re growing growing growing all the time.”
Julianna goes back to New York City in less than a month for a dance company audition.
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