From South Dakota to the Bolshoi, a dancer’s leap

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“A responsibility to represent my country.”

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Colleen Hallberg still can’t quite believe that her son, born in Rapid City, South Dakota, to parents who had no real interest in, or knowledge of, dance, who at first encouraged him to play sports, somehow got to this point.

Looking back, she thinks the first sign was David’s fondness, as a child, for old dance movies.

“His older brother would be renting `The Transformers,’ and David would be asking for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,” says Colleen Hallberg. “We didn’t know where that came from. Not from us.”

Then there were those nickels taped to the shoes. “He had a little Sony radio with him, and he’d go tapping down the street,” she says.

By his ninth birthday, when David got those real tap shoes, the family was living in Minnesota. They moved again, to Phoenix, when David was entering fourth grade. “He was thrilled because we were closer to Hollywood,” his mother says.

Then one day, a flyer appeared at the jazz studio where he had started classes: auditions for “The Nutcracker,” at Ballet Arizona. David had no ballet experience, but he got the lead boy part _ the Nutcracker Prince. “That was it,” his mother says. “He just became enamored with the ballet.” His role ended in the first act, but he’d call home every night, saying he wanted to stay to watch the rest.

It wasn’t easy being a schoolboy obsessed with dance. “I was teased relentlessly, incessantly,” Hallberg says now.

“He was bullied,” his mom says simply. “The worst year was seventh grade. He was called all the names you’d imagine.”

Then came what the family calls a godsend. A public charter school opened, the Arizona School for the Arts. “I found an environment I fit into,” Hallberg says. It allowed him to focus on dance, and life changed. He also met Han, who ran the dance program there and coaxed him into classes at the Arizona Ballet School. “He’d do jazz and tap, he’d have a full load at school, and then we’d work on ballet until 10, 10:30 at night,” says Han.

The boy’s long, lean, strong physique was a marvel. “It’s not often that you see something like that,” Han says. “But physique isn’t everything. With David, you asked him to jump and he said, `How high?’”

David may have been in a hurry, but his parents weren’t. Over the next few years, they did the opposite of what many parents of seriously talented kids do. They kept him home, even though he was offered chances to study and dance elsewhere. “We didn’t think he was ready,” his mother says. “HE thought he was ready. But we were looking for personal maturity _ and better grades.” Looking back, she confesses, “I don’t think we were very knowledgeable about just how good he was.”

When he was 17, though, Hallberg’s parents let him audition for the Paris Opera Ballet School. Two weeks after he sent in a video, a letter came in French, with an invitation.

Hallberg spent a lonely year in Paris. He didn’t know the language. Friends were hard to come by. He would send home miserable postcards. When he came home for Christmas, his parents told him it was OK; he didn’t need to go back.

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