EUREKA — Rhea Keller has started the adventure of a lifetime: a year-long apprenticeship at the Rochester (N.Y.) City Ballet.
The 19-year-old has dreamed of being a ballerina since she was 4. Girl Scouts took the youngster away from dance until age 10; she switched to ballet at 13.
A year later, she landed the lead role of Clara in a Peoria children’s presentation of the “Nutcracker Suite.” She practiced with the Peoria Ballet for five years, most recently with Rebekah von Rathonyi at Cornerstone Academy for Performing Arts.
She previously understudied at Rochester ballet, a contemporary company in its 25th season.
“I was in ballet heaven,” Rhea said. “I was dancing in my basement one day and I was at a company getting to learn repertoire and stuff. It was just a really good experience. I worked really hard that week.”
Ballet companies look for apprentices who are smart, and Keller was a valedictorian at Eureka High School in 2011, scoring a 33 on her ACT.
“Not only does she have natural facilities, but she’s also very, very smart,” said von Rathonyi. “She picks things up quickly. She’s able to memorize instantaneously. She’s like a sponge. She always wants more. I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her a lot.”
Apprenticeships are unpaid positions where ballerinas learn the ropes from professionals. Keller scooped ice cream at Emack & Bolio’s in Peoria while living at home with parents Sam and Carrie and brother Merrich. She plans to work part-time in Rochester, since she’ll dance about 32 hours a week.
“The business of ballet, with the recession, people are holding onto their jobs as long as they can, so there are no spots,” Keller said. “Apprenticeships are a time to pay your dues. It’s like an internship.”