Teen trades his black belt for ballet shoes

By Linda McIntosh


After five years of karate lessons, Tyler Quinn, 13, is trading his black belt for ballet shoes. Quinn danced his first ballet performance only a year ago, but has already gained attention in the ballet world. Competing against young dancers from across the country, Tyler won a full scholarship to the summer intensive program at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School based in Seattle — one of the top three ballet schools in the country.

“For Tyler, I have big plans ... if he keeps working like this, great things will happen,” said Erlends Zieminch, director of Ballet Arte in Solana Beach. Tyler takes seven ballet classes a week at Ballet Arte, which consume most of his time outside of school, along with taking a jazz class and team gymnastics at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA.

Tyler is preparing to enter the Youth America Grand Prix, an international student ballet scholarship competition held annually in New York City and around the world for dancers ages 9-19.

Tyler, a seventh-grader at Encinitas Country Day, has been gearing up for his virtuoso solo as the Bluebird in Ballet Arte’s spring production of “The Sleeping Beauty” on June 12.

After playing Little League baseball, basketball and All Stars soccer in Encinitas since he was 7, Tyler changed directions by chance last year when he got his first taste of ballet performing as a martial artist in the role of a soldier in “The Nutcracker.”

“He was actually helping his little sister out. She was a little shy on stage, and we thought it would help to have her brother there,” said Tyler’s mother, Jeannie Quinn.

But that taste got him started. Tyler enrolled in ballet classes and found out he liked it.

Tyler’s favorite part of class is practicing pirouettes, a turning maneuver.

“I like to see what I can do and beat my record,” he said.

“He likes to work and likes to dance,” Zieminch said. “He has a natural ability that is rare and sets him apart.”

Tyler credits his years of martial arts training and sports to his progress in dance. “It’s helped me get more coordination.”

Tyler plans to build his strength this summer during his five weeks of intensive training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, where he’ll be taking four classes a day from morning to evening each weekday, as well as a morning technique class on Saturdays. Classes include technique, pointe, jazz, character, modern dance, pilates and music, as well as dance history, anatomy, nutrition and conditioning to develop core strength; promote long, lean muscles; and increase a dancer’s range of movement and flexibility.

“I want to build my strength, gain experience and learn as much as I can,” Tyler said.

His role model is his instructor, Zieminch.

“Erlends has been my inspiring hero,” Tyler said.

Zieminch’s background includes training at the Riga Choreographic Institute, the same academy that Mikhail Baryshnikov attended. After receiving his Professional Performing Art Diploma, Zieminch toured worldwide with the Latvian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, dancing lead roles.

Zieminch was invited to join New York City Ballet, where he danced numerous principal roles. He also served as faculty at the Ballet Internationale Academy. Zieminch directs Ballet Arte with his wife, Sara Viale, a native of Torino, Italy, who graduated from the prestigious Academie de la Danse Princess Grace in Monaco, Monte Carlo. Viale performed for the renowned Italian company Aterballetto, the Zurich Ballet and Ballet Internationale, where she was promoted to principal dancer. Viale served as a ballet instructor at the Clara Noyes Academy for 10 years.

“Our goal is to have students like Tyler who are dedicated and want to be professional dancers,” Zieminch said.

Despite some teasing at school, Tyler is set on pursuing ballet.

“Some people discouraged me, but I’m trying not to let that bother me,” Tyler said.

Tyler’s family has been supportive. “We wanted him to find something he loved to do, and this is it,” his mom said.

Tyler expects a lot of himself and is setting his sights high. “My goal is to live in New York and perform for the New York City Ballet,” he said.