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Sienna, Clea and Isla Calvin

By Robert Waldner
Photo by Kate Gardiner; Dance photos contributed by Athena Calvin

What defines a role model? Many kids aspire to follow the well-trodden path of fame and fortune. But what about the homegrown role models who develop a passion early in life and decide to follow it out of pure love, regardless of whether it brings them a life of riches?

Athena and Scott Calvin have firsthand experience with raising three girls who fit the above description. “It all started when I developed an interest in dance later in life,” says Athena. “Because of this, Sienna started dancing right here in St. Augustine at four years old.” Sienna Calvin, the oldest of three at 20, is a prime example of the rewards that can be reaped from hard work, determination, and a willingness to go wherever your passion takes you. “Once I started dancing, it became my life,” says Sienna. “In my early years, I spent every day after school, on the weekends, my entire summers, and just about every holiday dancing,” she elaborates.

Sienna played a big part in her younger sister Clea’s following along the same path. The 18-year-old’s ballet biography started when she was just two-and-a-half years old. “I remember wearing a pink tutu when my mom took me to my sister’s dance recital,” Clea recalls. “When Sienna’s group was led onto the stage, I was mistaken for a classmate by the teacher and dragged onstage with them. That is when I knew I wanted to be a dancer.” Though her journey has taken her on a clearly different path than Sienna’s, she has come just as far career-wise, and even farther geographically. While many kids her age were going to summer camp down the street, Clea was getting on a plane to Connecticut to dance in the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Intensives. It was an invitation that would prove to be the jumpstart to her career. ““I went away for the first time at 10 years old,” says Clea. “It was an amazing opportunity to be exposed to Russian ballet. It’s something that every serious ballerina dreams about,” she adds.

Just two years later, at the tender age of 12, Clea was invited to Moscow to enroll in Bolshoi Ballet’s year-round dance program. “My parents and grandparents were on the fence about my going to Russia for a year, but Sienna helped me to convince them that it was something I had to do.”

“It was amazing to see Clea being presented with this once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Sienna. “I knew she had to do it.”

Once she was in Moscow, Clea was living in an at-capacity boarding school. “The dorms were very small and living with so many other people was a rude awakening. None of my teachers or classmates spoke English. I didn’t have any time to myself,” she says. “But the dance experience outweighed the homesickness. I had never been so happy dancing anywhere. While it was scary and there were times when I wanted to come home, my parents made me see it through to the end. One of the best experiences of my life was performing in Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty. I also learned to speak Russian fluently during that year.”

Isla and Clea in Practice

At thirteen years old, after her full year in Moscow, Clea went straight to Manhattann to study at Ellison Ballet School. “When I was in New York, I was living in my own apartment. I learned how to manage money, cook, clean, and live on my own, all while getting top-notch ballet training,” says Clea. While attending Ellison, she was chosen from among a group of eight New York ballet students to perform in a major production of the Mikhailovsky Ballet at the Met.

Two years in New York led Clea to both Paris and Monaco for ballet intensives. “I got to see the world. It was surreal,” she says. Finally, at 16, she ended up in St. Petersburg, Russia where she joined the St. Petersburg Conservatory Ballet – on her very first contract! “So much happened for me there,” she says. “I received soloist opportunities. I even missed Christmas at home one year to dance the Arabian part in the Nutcracker in St. Petersburg.”

Back home in St. Augustine since December, Clea will return to Russia before the end of the summer to pick up where she left off.

The Calvin sisters’ passion for dance does not stop with Sienna and Clea. The youngest of the three, Isla, has also pursued a decorated dance career. However, instead of training internationally in classical ballet, Isla, who is 16, has stayed closer to home, dancing in Palm Coast at one of the country’s premiere studios for competition and commercial dance. “I got a good understanding of what I did and didn’t want out of dance from watching my sisters and starting down the same path as they did, even training overseas for a short time. The path I’ve chosen puts me in front of working industry choreographers and has me competing against the top talent in each genre. It requires me to be constantly improving my skills,” says Isla. “In recent years, and after moving to a highly-focused competition studio, Isla has earned first place titles, specialty awards, and technical awards for her execution,” says mom, Athena. “She attributes most of her awards to her ten years of classical ballet training. Isla is still receiving a high school education while she trains, and just finished the school year at Pedro Menendez High School with a 4.0 GPA.

Through it all, St. Augustine has played a big part in their success. As Sienna says, “Knowing that I had St. Augustine to come home to made all of my time away pursuing my dreams so much easier to endure.” Her mom agrees.

“The girls wouldn’t be where they are without our supportive community,” Athena adds.

The Calvin girls would like all kids who are pursuing their dreams to remember:

“You will only get out what you put into your passion.”
— Sienna Calvin.

“Nobody can hold you back if you’re willing to take the leaps that nobody else is willing to take.”
— Clea Calvin

“Know yourself, know what makes you glow, and go in that direction.”
— Isla Calvin