At only 15 years old, Erica Wolf has already found her niche in the mirrored rooms of a dance studio. The Saugerties High School sophomore spends upwards of 16 hours a week at her studio; practicing, fine-tuning her skills and working toward her ultimate goal: becoming a professional dancer.
She began dancing back in Florida five years ago after a neighbor suggested she try ballet to help with her ice skating. She moved to Saugerties two years ago.
The first time Scarlett Fiero, co-owner and instructor at Saugerties Ballet Center, laid eyes on Erica, she knew she was a rare talent. “I was very impressed with her natural talents and her sweet personality,” said Fiero. “She [faced] a unique challenge because she had started her ballet training down in Florida and right in the middle of it she had to change, so that’s always very difficult, [but] she came here and blended in really well right away.”
Since her arrival, Erica has worked tirelessly to improve herself as a dancer, and part of what separates her from most others her age is that her hard work continues outside of class. She studies different types of ballet, variations and techniques during her free time to help herself improve. “She just has a lot of knowledge about ballet and about classical ballet and I think that’s really going to help her in the future, because when she’s learning new ballets she already knows them,” said Justine Maletta, one of Erica’s instructors. This in-depth knowledge often comes in handy while working on new pieces in the studio. “She comes prepared,” said Maletta. “She’ll bring a variation to me and she’ll already know it.”
Erica’s natural talents, the strength she attained through her years of figure skating and a phenomenal work ethic, have served her well in the dance world. She has auditioned for and been accepted to numerous summer intensive programs, including the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program; Next Generation Ballet in Tampa, Florida; The Rock School for Dance Education; and NYSSSA, the New York State Summer School for the Arts.
“I’m always trying to grow as a dancer,” she said.
She spends a great deal of her time in classes at her studio, and when she is not in class she focuses on conditioning to strengthen her core. She says many underestimate the athleticism dance demands, not to mention the toll it takes on a dancer’s body. Shin splints, tendonitis, or hip and knee problems are common. Though their bodies are under constant strain, most dancers simply see this as a normal part of life. “It’s just something that you kind of deal with,” Erica said.
Erica knows the career of a professional dancer isn’t very long, only lasting until one’s 30s or 40s. Getting that far requires a devotion to one’s health and conditioning few possess. “Ballet requires complete awareness of your body,” Erica said. “Your body is your career.”
As to her inspirations, Erica points to two prominent figures in her life: her mother, Jody Wolf, whom she credits as her “biggest supporter,” and Sara Mearns, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, whom Erica looks up to not just from a dance perspective but from a personal one as well. Not only is she an incredible talent, Mearns also makes YouTube videos of her travels and experiences which she uses to connect with fans. Erica looks up to Mearns because she feels she is a genuine person as well as a gifted dancer, never coming across as snobby or conceited.
Fittingly, the characteristics Erica admires in Mearns, younger dancers at her studio admire in her. Not only is Erica an incredible talent, she is also a humble, amiable person. Younger dancers respond to her. “She makes it a point to talk to all of them and to help them and to make herself approachable,” said Maletta. “She is not stuck-up at all. She loves working with them and it shows. She’s so kind and so non-judgmental. I hope she never loses that. I don’t think she will.”
Working as an assistant teacher in some classes for her studio’s younger students, Erica is acutely aware that her actions will have an impact on the children she teaches, and this inspires her to be the best version of herself she can be.
These days, it’s a tremendous challenge for dancers to find professional work.
“The dance world is so competitive,” said Erica. Most companies are cutting back and not hiring. But she’s not discouraged, and her teachers see no reason she should be.
“I think she’s got a very good shot at becoming a professional dancer if she so desires,” says Fiero.
Maletta agrees. “[I see her with] New York City Ballet or some ballet company. She’ll be in a company or working toward that for sure.”
While she’s aiming high with her goal to join a company like the New York City Ballet or the Boston Ballet, ultimately Erica will be happy wherever she ends up — as long she’s dancing.