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She’s Living Her Dream

Stella Abrera’s Journey To Ballet Stardom Began in South Pas
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South Pas native Stella Abrera, now a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, will perform in Los Angeles on Nov. 14. Photo by Sarah Kehoe, courtesy of Capezio

A childhood wish became a reality, and now South Pasadena native Stella Abrera has what her heart desired — a career with the prestigious American Ballet Theater.

Abrera returns to Los Angeles on Thursday, Nov. 14, headlining a performance at Little Tokyo’s Aratani Theater on behalf of Artists for Aveni, an organization in support of the Aveni Cancer Foundation.

Principal James Whiteside will also be headlining the performance alongside the ABT Studio Company.

“When we were kids, we used to cross our fingers and make a wish when we went through the tunnels on the 110 going to and from Los Angeles to Pasadena,’’ Abrera recalled in an interview with the Review.

“I always wished that I could join ABT.’’

Her wish came true when she was 16, as Abrera was spotted while performing at a dance summer camp in upstate New York by the then-assistant director of ABT. She was invited to audition in October 1995, and in December she got a call that there was a contract open in January, awaiting her signature.

She was in her junior year at South Pasadena High School, but off she went to New York.

“My parents had some trepidations, but they knew that I wanted to move,’’ Abrera recalled. “Everyone was elated for me. They were proud and very supportive.’’

She has now been with ABT for 24 years and recalls that girl who got, and took, a chance.

Abrera became a soloist in 2001 and a principal dancer in 2015.

“It’s very rare that something happens like what happened to me,’’ she said. “Imagine the millions of ballet students there are, and there are 90 spots in ABT.

“I was really lucky to get my dream company. I wanted to dance with ABT since I knew what ballet was.’’

She has since gotten her GED, but says she has learned so much just from her work and from life.

“It was definitely a sink-or-swim situation,’’ Abrera said. “You have to show resourcefulness and a willingness to learn.’’

She remembers the days she spent as a girl, splitting time between school, rehearsals and recitals. Rehearsals lasted four hours a day during the week, and five hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I sacrificed a lot of activities to be in the ballet studio, where I wanted to be most,’’ she said.

Abrera said that, despite the work, she recalls the fun she had at South Pasadena High. She still gets home at least once a year to visit her parents — who now live in Pasadena, and her sister, who lives in Long Beach.

The upcoming ballet benefit performance celebrates 10-year cancer survivors who were treated with Aveni Foundation’s DeltaRex-G. All of the proceeds from ticket sales will go the foundation, whose mission is to speed the development of gene-targeted cancer therapies and other diseases.

The Aratani Theater is located at 224 San Pedro St. in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles. The performance begins at 7 p.m. Ticket prices range from $90 to $200. Tickets and information are available at http://bit.ly/ArtistsForAveni.

Andy Lippman

A former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Associated Press, Lippman writes weekly about some South Pasadena person, business, issue or trend.

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