Addison dancer flies high after overcoming injury
Casimere Jollette always starts and ends her days in the same fashion — with her feet soaking in ice water.
Far from being some kind of cruel punishment, it's a ritual the 16-year-old enjoys, both in the morning when she gets ready to tackle daily dance class marathons, and at night while she watches TV, another tiring but productive day behind her.
Who inspires you? Misty Copeland, soloist for American Ballet Theatre. She is very petite like me, and usually a lot of ballerinas are very tall. I can look up to her and hope that I can be like her someday.
What's on your iPod? Justin Bieber
What book are you reading? "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
The three words that best describe you? Funny. Disciplined. Hardworking.
Casimere, who lives in Addison, is getting ready to compete in January in the regionals of Youth America Grand Prix, the world's largest and most prestigious student ballet scholarship competition. The finals are held in April in New York.
At her first Grand Prix at age 14, Casimere placed in the top 12 in contemporary dance in the regional category. This past January, she missed the competition altogether, after a back injury temporarily derailed her dreams of one day becoming a prima ballerina.
"Last year I prepared for it. This year, I'm fighting for it," Casimere said.
Her dance teacher, Sherry Moray, said Casimere is an exceptional young pre-professional ballerina with impeccable work ethic and loads of natural talent. Moray is the founder and artistic director of the Academy of Dance Arts in Downers Grove, and a former prima ballerina with the Chicago City Ballet who danced internationally with the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany.
"She's extremely, extremely talented in dance. She has won at competitions since she was very young, has had multiple accolades, always getting the top scores," said Moray, who equated the Grand Prix to the Olympics for young dancers, because they train as intensely as Olympic hopefuls.
"She has the talent, ability and stage presence. She steps onstage and it just lights up. I'm not talking about a smile. It's true, natural, electrifying presence," Moray said. "She has true, innate abilities that make the audience sit up and take notice."
As if being an outstanding dancer weren't enough, Casimere also has a career as a model, including for the American Girl doll company and catalogs such as Claire's and Mejier, and as a budding actress who auditioned for a part on the ABC Family show "Bunheads."
She is featured in "Sweet 16," a short film submitted for the Chicago International Film Festival. The film will debut Saturday at a private screening at the iPic Theater in South Barrington.
Casimere's mother, Carolyn Jollette, a former jazz dancer, said she enrolled Casimere in dance classes at age 2 because of her belief in its positive influence. "I think it keeps (girls) focused. Dance teaches them discipline and grace and poise. It also teaches them respect for teachers," she said.
It didn't take long for Casimere to become consumed by a passion all her own.
"Even at age 5 I knew I wanted to be a dancer. I got the 'future prima ballerina' award, and it was like, 'I've got to dance,'" Casimere said. "It's the grace about it, the way you express yourself. It's the feeling inside that comes out."
Casimere follows a rigorous schedule that revolves around dance classes at the academy. During the summer, she dances about eight hours a day with just a short lunch break. During the school year, she gets up at 6 a.m. to put in about four hours of school work per day. She started home schooling after her freshman year at Addison Trail High School and now takes classes online through The Keystone School. She expects to graduate high school early by the end of the year.
Casimere applies the same discipline to her studies as she does to her dancing, Carolyn Jollette said.
"She's always been a very focused, driven child. If there is an opportunity for whatever it is, she takes whatever she can get," her mother said. Casimere's older brother, Ralphie, 19, is a student at College of DuPage and is a classically trained pianist.
It's unclear how Casimere was injured last fall, but it was the most difficult time of her life, she said.
She had to wear a back brace from November to April because of three fractured vertebrae and two bulging ones. In fact, when Casimere went to Los Angeles last year to audition for the part of Melanie on "Bunheads," she was already injured, although she didn't know it yet. "I think it was my adrenaline," she said. "When I got out (of the audition) I was sore. I remember coming home on the plane, and I couldn't move."
For someone like Casimere, not only used to being physically active every day but accustomed to express herself through movement, the injury was devastating.
During that period, Casimere also became allergic to several foods and suffered such severe symptoms that at one point doctors thought she might have celiac disease, she said. Casimere said she went through some very rough ups and downs.
"I couldn't do anything. That's the most painful thing for a dancer. I still wanted to go (to the academy) and be part of the group. It hurt to stand and it hurt to sit, so I had to lie on the ground," she said. "To stop doing that — it's my life. When you cut that out, I have nothing."
The only upside of the injury was that Casimere was able to devote more time to acting classes through MBM Management based in Mount Prospect, mother and daughter said.
"The camera loves her. She has a real natural approach. It did not take much for me to catch her in getting a natural performance in everything she does. She's a very strong actor. Very strong," said Lisa Morgan, Casimere's manager.
"Sweet 16" director Trevor Morgan, Lisa Morgan's son, said the film is the result of a three-week acting camp that took place in June. Trevor Morgan previously directed "Hidden America," a short documentary shown at the Sacramento International Film Festival.
"First and foremost, she's just a really great kid. That's one thing that sets anyone apart — having a good heart," Trevor Morgan said. "There's a humble, graceful quality about her. She is extremely talented and has a bright future."
Casimere said she took to acting immediately.
"I love acting. It's another way to express myself, and I think it helped me with dance a lot. If something else comes up with acting, I'd love to take it," she said. "But even if I did get an acting job, there's no way I could stop dancing."
So will there come a day when Casimere gets tired of all the sweat and hard work? "My long schedules of dance, you'd think that I'd be tired, but I never really am," she said. "I'm tired but I never get that tired. I love getting up and doing it every day. It's like my therapy, dancing. Without it, I don't know what I would do."
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of a young person whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call (847) 608-2733.
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