Three Rivers Middle College graduate gets ready to leap into a career on the stage
Norwich — Lots of 9-year-olds say they want to be ballerinas when they grow up. Fewer, but still plenty, are still sure they want to be dancers at 15.
Eventually, though, the crowd thins. They go to college, they suffer an irreparable injury, they get told one too many times they don’t have the right body shape for a career in pointe shoes.
But if all goes according to plan, Tierin-Rose Mandelburg will be one of those girls who made good on her word.
Mandelburg, who will graduate from the magnet Three Rivers Middle College this spring with an associate degree from Three Rivers Community College, is standing at age 18 on her toes, on the precipice of what will be a short but intense career as a ballerina.
She has a job offer from a Huntsville, Ala., ballet company — an impressive opportunity for an 18-year-old — and will spend the summer at a Miami City Ballet program.
She danced in her last show as a student at Eastern Connecticut Ballet last month, in the children's book-based ballet "Ballerina Swan."
Mandelburg has performed and taken classes at the school since her family moved to Waterford when she was in eighth grade.
A small school nestled in the woods of East Lyme, ECB has taken on a prestigious air since it hired Gloria Govrin, a former New York City Ballet dancer and mentee of the company’s transformative choreographer George Balanchine, as its director.
Training with Govrin, Mandelburg said in an interview, set her career on a path to the professional stage.
"I’m so fortunate,” she said. "I never want to leave, I could stay there forever."
Taking her last bows at the show at the Garde Arts Center, she cried.
“It’s almost tears of joy,” she said. “I’m always so overwhelmingly happy that you just made all these people in the audience happy. Or the little girls that come up to you and ask for your autograph — that is what I can see myself doing later. That’s such a special moment.”
Learning from Govrin and New York City Ballet dancers like Sara Mearns, who has taught at ECB’s summer programs, helped. From Mearns, Mandelburg said she learned an important lesson: ballet is too much work to not like what you're doing.
"You put yourself in that mindset, and you get such a better product," Mandelburg said. "Even if you don't nail every turn, you make it look like you enjoy what you're doing."
A life in ballet starts early — Mandelburg made a choice to pursue dance as a career at age 15.
“My mom was like, ‘you need to decide, if I’m going to spend $100 on pointe shoes a week,’” she said.
It also ends early. Most dancers retire before the age of 40, set adrift by the natural end of a career that is as hard on bones and tendons as it is on sleep schedules and stress tolerance.
Both the early start and early end are part of why Mandelburg decided to leave Waterford High School and spend her junior and senior years at Three Rivers Middle College.
"I wanted to figure out a way to be able to dance and still get an education,” she said. “They were equally important to me.”
The second-youngest of eight siblings, Mandelburg has learned as much from her family as she has from school. Her oldest sister, she said, is 19 years her senior and used to change her diapers.
“It’s cool that they’re so much older than me that they’ve gone through it all,” she said.
Her backup plan — studying to be a nurse with pediatric cancer patients — stems from personal experience, too.
Her fifth-grade teacher was Matt Guarraia, whose daughter Madeline died last year after three bouts of leukemia.
"Just seeing her and seeing other kids like her, it’s so near to my heart," Mandelburg said.
Graduating from Three Rivers Middle College with several college credits and an associate's degree under her belt has readied Mandelburg for a career in dance and — if and when that ends — another career in nursing later.
Working hard, Mandelburg said, is second nature for her and her siblings. Each has had their own career paths, and some also have worked to get two degrees at once or continued to study new subjects even as they start their own families.
They get the work ethic, and endless support, from their parents, she said.
Mandelburg's father commutes to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center of New York off the northern tip of Long Island. Her mother, "a super-mom" and a full-time foster parent, has taken on work at ECB to help pay for her classes.
"I don’t become a snooty dance girl, because I know my mom works hard for this. And to pay her back for that, I work hard at my dancing."
Deciding to leave for Alabama — or wherever her leaps and bourrees take her — is far from a sure step, she says.
"Ballet is a risk," she said. "In class it's a risk with the steps you do, and ballet as a career itself is also a risk."
But the performance, she said, is the ultimate reward.
"I go through these rehearsals and have bleeding toes and aching legs. Seeing the finished product and eventually ... performing myself, that is to me the greatest reward," she said.
"You forget about the bleeding toes and the aching legs."
Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Tierin-Rose Mandelburg's first name.
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