Refraining from judging a book by its cover is always a good tenet to embrace. If you didn't already know him, passing Dante González on the street might not make you even bat an eye. Heck, sticking out as 14-year-old kid is probably a hard thing to accomplish. Unless, of course, you're a world-class ballet dancer with a résumé longer than those of some people graduating from college this spring.
The point is, it's always impressive to see someone work so hard-and succeed-at something they love and care about so passionately, especially at a young age. For Dante, that passion runs deep. It all started with one fateful night at the American Ballet Theater when Dante's parents couldn't find a babysitter. What to do? Leave a three-year-old at home to fend for himself? Never in a million years. So he just tagged along.
"I was about three at the time and I really enjoyed it," said Dante. "Then I started dancing in front of the mirror until they took me to a studio in Florida. I guess that's just how it all started."
It didn't take long for his parents to catch on. It's hard to deny natural talent when you see it. So, no more than a year later, in 2008, at the age of four, Dante was dancing classical ballet. According to his mother, Irma González, from then on, it was nothing but the stage life. Dancing ballet and getting a healthy dose of theater by way of Players by the Sea in Jax Beach and Theater Jacksonville took up most of his time inside and outside the classrooms at LaVilla School of the Arts. Then, with sixth grade on the horizon, Dante transitioned to the fulltime career of a dancer, enrolling at The Florida Ballet Conservatory, making his mark there as well.
For Dante, The Florida Ballet is a place full of fond memories. "When I was with The Florida Ballet, I remember, every December they put on a production of The Nutcracker," he said. "That was the first time I got to dance on stage and perform different roles."
Yet, for those talented kids like Dante, moving onward and upward—both literally and figuratively in this instance—is part and parcel of the inevitable. As the summer of 2016 was just peeking around the corner, Dante was presented with an invitation to attend the Royal Ballet School's intensive summer program. He traveled abroad to the United Kingdom, then returned to continue developing and sharpening the skills of his chosen craft. Dante eventually received another invitation to attend Canada's National Ballet School (NBS) at its summer program in 2017. This time, lightning struck big time. Over the course of the summer program, he made a good impression, to say the least. Dante's talents caught the attention of certain important spectators. A few pirouettes later, and he found himself the recipient of a full scholarship at the Toronto NBS, along with a professional training position scheduled to start in September 2017.
However, there was one above-average elephant in the room: an almost-1,200-mile-long gap between Jacksonville and Toronto. Irma acknowledges that the circumstances were difficult, but not insurmountable, and the eventual decision was nearly a foregone conclusion. "He was happy to accept, but we were not ready to let him go alone at only 13, even though the school offers dorms," said Irma. "So we decided to move with him."
Dante was squared away as far as documentation, with a student visa for the ballet school, but his parents and younger brother had to obtain visas in order to join him. Finally, with all their ducks in a row, the González family set a course for Toronto-and they've never looked back. Not to belabor the point, but that's one a heck of a résumé for a 14-year-old.
On the topic of transitioning from one place to another, Dante reports that he's starting to get the hang of things in the Great White North, but had just one minor critique: "Cold. It was really cold," said Dante. "When I got here in December, it was starting to get down to -25°F at night. But you get used to it."
Apart from the weather, Dante says, it's taking some time to acclimate himself to the training climate. At NBS, things are done a bit differently. Instead of everyone in one big class, the young gentlemen and ladies are trained separately on occasion, so they can learn techniques specific to their roles in the ballet. This strengthens them not only physically, but mentally, too.
It goes with the territory that when rising to the next level in any profession, the techniques evolve; for Dante, the level of expectation rises as well. "There's definitely more pressure, but you can't let it get to you," said Dante. "It's about expression and you just have to focus on finding joy in every movement."
When asked what his plans for the future might be, Dante gave a clear, succinct answer. "I want to expose myself to bunch of different things, but ballet dance is definitely what I want to continue to do into the future," said Dante. "Yeah, there's a lot of hard things to go through, but I guess when you love something that much, you don't really want to do anything else."