When she was just 11 years old Isabella Long decided to start chasing a childhood dream of becoming a professional ballerina. Now, as an 18-year-old, Long, a former Riverside resident, is still chasing that dream, after graduating from Ellison Ballet in New York City. Long recently signed a contract to join and train with Houston Ballet's second company, Houston Ballet II, one of the top companies in the country.
When Long was just three years old, her parents enrolled her in her first ballet and tap classes. Long tells us she gradually began to gravitate more towards ballet than any other type of dance or sport because of the versatility, the technicality, the fluidity, and the work ethic needed to excel as a ballerina.
She later found her way to Greenwich Ballet Academy, where she trained for a number of years. Long credits the studio for helping her to find a sense of community, even in a competitive environment.
“The dance community taught me a lot,” Long said. “It's so important to keep in contact with those people and see how they grow and how we all support each other.”
Training at Greenwich Ballet Academy also helped Long to envision the opportunities out there for her. She said many of her peers at the academy were also beginning to think about dancing professionally, which helped her to find Ellison Ballet.
At 13, Long and her family made the decision for her to move to New York City to attend Ellison Ballet, a professional training program for students aspiring to a professional career. At Ellison, Long trained every day from 10:30 to 4:30, and had to learn to manage schoolwork on top of dance.
“It was definitely very difficult to balance, but you just have to be really disciplined to get it all done,” Long said.
Long said transitioning to Ellison and not living at home was a big adjustment, yet it helped to have family just an hour away.
Now in Houston, Long said she will only come home every six months, with her family visiting occasionally. Though, for Long, it was an opportunity she said she couldn’t pass up.
“I really loved the teachers, the studios, and the environment in Houston,” Long said.
Yet, Long’s time as a dancer has not been without some challenges. In 2020, Long suffered a stress fracture in her second metatarsal and, due to COVID-19, she had to wait to see a doctor and be diagnosed. After having to wear a boot for eight weeks and intense rehab, Long said she then tore a ligament in her hip. During this time, Long still had to attend Zoom training classes but wasn’t able to dance, which she said she found to be tough.
“It was really the getting back into dancing that I think was the most difficult,” Long said. “Because you're healthy again and you want to do everything, but you don't want to injure yourself again.”
Long said along with the physical toll ballet has taken, she’s had to also learn to manage her mental health and credits her friends for helping her through difficult periods.
“They're going through the same problems as you so it's so helpful to have good friends as an answer,” Long said.
In thinking about the future, Long doesn’t have a set plan and is taking things as they come. Yet she said an ultimate goal would be to dance and travel in Europe. And even with the little free time Long has, she said she enjoys spending time with friends and family.
For younger dancers with similar passions and goals, Long said they should never doubt their abilities.
“I think it's worth it to keep going,” Long said. “The end result of whatever you want to do with your abilities in the dance world or in ballet, I think it can really pay off in the end.”