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En pointe with Eleanor Danaan

12/4/2019

From biscuit feet to bananas, ballet offers high-energy action.

Eleanor Danaan, 25, of Ballet Des Moines is a professional dancer. The local talent was reared in central Iowa, graduated from Valley High School (2012) and is in her sixth season with Ballet Des Moines. Photo submitted

In the beginning of Eleanor Danaan’s ballet life, the young dancer’s feet were shaped like biscuits.

“They were… we call them biscuits,” she remembers. “That is when they are just like a claw. I had biscuit feet. But then you stretch them, and now I have the bananas. You want the bananas. You don’t want biscuits.”

The dancing star for Ballet Des Moines says she worked hard to transform more than just her feet. As a 15-year-old, she had descended into a dark mental hole. Struggling to feel OK and not alone, she wondered if she might be crazy.

About that time, she remembers someone recalling an old adage about ballet: “Only the crazy ones get good.” Since dancing was her passion, the words were music to her ears. “I’m going to be fine,” she thought.

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Dancing pulled her from the darkness.

“Ballet allows you to feel and emote,” she says. “That is where I put all of that emotion. I put it into training really hard. It also helped me learn when I could feel my feelings and when I needed to just keep pushing.”

That is why the dancer has a message for anyone with ears to hear.

“A lot of people feel (ballet) is a luxury,” she informs. “But it’s not. You NEED it. You just don’t know you need it.”

Ballet Des Moines launched in 2012, and, according to Danaan, it had been a long time since a professional company existed in Iowa.

“We’re good,” she says. “We’re growing. We are young dancers who have careers ahead of us, and we want to show you how hard we’ve worked to get here.”

“Who let the dogs out” played at Danaan’s first dance recital. She was 5. Those early years were fun, but she says ballet’s magic truly arrived while wearing her first pair of pointe shoes when she was 9 or 10.

“You can walk on your toes,” she remembers thinking. “That was really cool.”

Like a sponge, Danaan soaked in ballet instruction from any source available. She has come a long way but wants to go further still.

“I haven’t done too much yet,” she says modestly. “I’ve only been to Cincinnati (Ballet) and Orlando (Ballet). … It’s more than some and less than others. I’d really like to spend some time in Europe. That’s the pinnacle.”

For now, Danaan enjoys her life and career as it is.

“It is so cool,” she says. “You don’t have to write numbers on the papers. You wear sweatpants all day, and you run around in a leotard and then you teach kids to do the same thing.”

Dancing is hard work, though. Her day begins around 9:30 in the morning. Other than a few breaks and meals, she continues dancing or teaching classes until 9:30 at night.

“Pretty much every day,” she says.

Ballet Des Moines’ season offers many opportunities to witness world-class dance. The upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker” is scheduled for Dec. 13-15 at Hoyt Sherman Place. Danaan is excited to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“It’s really pretty, and it is the role you want, but it is so hard,” she says. “It is like you are smiling up there, and you are being all sparkly, but you are dying inside and your calves are screaming at you. They are like, ‘We need to stop; this is torture.’ And you are like, ‘No, it’s fine; keep dancing and smiling.’ ”

There is no place Danaan would rather be than inside ballet shoes — en pointe. ♦

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