PBT School Graduate Students Take Center Stage

A male dancer holds hands with a female dancer on either side of him as the three leap across the stage

A major part of the PBT School experience is the opportunity for students to perform on the big stage. The most recent opportunity for PBT students to perform was at Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts, which was held this year from June 9 – 12 at the Allegheny Riverfront. 

However, PBT School student performance opportunities were not just limited to Open Air this year; many graduate students saw the opportunity to perform in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra last May as well as previous productions of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

Three graduate students from the PBT School — Cecilia Hernandez, Gracie Jean Joiner and Jesse Joiner — reflect on the performance opportunities that PBT has offered and what they’ve learned from their experiences onstage.

What is your favorite part about performing? Least favorite part?

  • Gracie: My favorite part of performing is the sense of calm I feel when I step on stage. I also love that you can be anyone on stage. Playing a character and having an audience respond is amazing! My least favorite part of performing is that there just isn’t enough of it. Even with all the performance opportunities, I would always love to be on stage more.
  • Cecilia: My favorite part about performing is anytime I am on stage. I love the adrenaline, the freedom and getting more energy from the audience. And my least favorite parts are the moments right before getting on stage where I stress about what could go wrong. But that quickly ends once I step on stage, and then it’s my favorite part!
  • Jesse: My favorite part of performing is getting ready and into costume and getting into character. There’s nothing in the world that’s as incredible as dancing on stage with lights and costumes with your friends. I honestly don’t have a least favorite part of performing. During long runs of shows like The Nutcracker, it’s a lot of hours and shows and it feels draining and tiring, but as soon as the curtain goes up you forget all about it.  

What is your favorite type of dance you’ve performed?

  • Gracie: I started ballet at a later age and trying to catch up to more advanced dancers initially left me without much confidence in performing classical ballet. As I’ve continued my training with PBT School and gained confidence, classical ballet has become my absolute favorite.
  • Cecilia: I’ve performed many styles of dance (modern, jazz, hip hop, contemporary) but ballet will always be my favorite to perform!
  • Jesse: My favorite type of dance I performed is classical. Classical is the style I feel most comfortable in because you rely on your technique and rehearsals once you get on stage.
A male dancer poses on stage with one female dancer on either side of him.
Lexi Troianos, Jesse Joiner and Gracie Jean Joiner perform the pas de trois from Swan Lake at the 2022 production of Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts | Photo: Aviana Adams

How was your experience with Open Air this year? What role did you dance?

  • Gracie: I had a great experience with Open Air this year. We all felt so much love and support from the other dancers, instructors and audience members! It was an honor to represent the PBT school dancing as second girl in the pas de trois from Swan Lake.
  • Cecilia: Performing in PBT’s Open Air this year was so fun! I performed the role of Kitri in the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux. Working with my partner and sharing the outdoor stage after lots of hard work was a beautiful experience. It was also lovely to see the other dance organizations from Pittsburgh performing. The Open Air collaboration truly highlights and shows appreciation for the Pittsburgh dance community.
  • Jesse: I had a great time in Open Air this year; it was a great performance opportunity! I danced the role of Benno in the Swan Lake pas de trois.
A female dancer in a red dress leaps across a stage.
Ceclia Hernandez performs the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux in the 2022 production of Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts | Photo: Aviana Adams

What has been your favorite performance experience with PBT?

  • Gracie: It’s difficult to narrow down my favorite performance experience with PBT because I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities over the last three years. This year, I particularly loved performing the pas de trois from Swan Lake in the Spring Showcase and Open Air. We were able to rehearse the piece with several instructors who guided us and also let us make it our own.
  • Cecilia: My favorite performance experience with PBT was performing in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra this past May. I had the pleasure of dancing the Swan corps and Czardas corps. It was an absolute dream to be a part of the rehearsal and performance process. My favorite moment is when the Swan corps open Act IV with a slow dance. The music and the strength and unity of the swans is such a special moment that I will never forget. 
  • Jesse: My favorite performance with PBT has been The Sleeping Beauty. Getting to dance with a professional company for the first time was an experience I will never forget.

How does dancing alongside company dancers and other students inform your own dancing?

  • Gracie: There is always something to be learned from dancing alongside or even just watching other dancers, whether in class or during performances. When watching company dancers and fellow students, I like to focus on the little nuances that make their performances spectacular and emulate those in my own way.
  • Cecilia: Watching and observing company members has certainly helped me understand what company life is truly like. There’s a level of professionalism and collaboration that they present that motivates me. In rehearsals, they are quick to ask questions and work together to make the final product as clean as can be. Many company members would help me with understanding the music and spacing of certain dances. I have learned so much from my fellow Graduate students as well. They have guided me in adapting to longer dance schedules. They have encouraged me on my off days and I would do the same for them. We motivate each other in classes and rehearsals and offer suggestions to help improve our technique and artistry. We are like a family!
  • Jesse: Every time I dance with company members I learn something new, from how they work in rehearsal to their class work. There is always a chance to learn in any setting.

How has your experience performing with PBT helped to shape you as a dancer?
Gracie: I came to PBT with lots of technical knowledge, but absolutely no clue what to do with it. Having so many opportunities to perform with PBT in different locations and styles has helped me to improve both the consistency of my technique and artistry.
Cecilia: Performing with PBT has helped me grow more professional and developed how I present myself on stage. I’m so grateful to have had many performance opportunities to help me experiment with who I am as a dancer.
Jesse: PBT has shaped me into the dancer I am today. I came to PBT four years ago and this is where my technique has been shaped and created. Dancing alongside the company has really helped me learn how to work smart and work hard in class and rehearsal.