My name is Grace Downey, and I am a high school senior in the Advanced division at Pioneer Valley Ballet. PVB has always been a familiar place for me. My mother danced with PVB for most of her childhood, and has continued to participate in performances during her adult years. My grandfather, Dan Rist, worked for PVB as a production manager, set designer, and lighting designer for over 30 years. So naturally, when my mom signed me up to be a reindeer in the Nutcracker, I quickly became hooked. Now 14 years later, PVB is my second home.

The supportive environment that PVB provides has helped me overcome many difficulties in my life.  When I was struggling with depression as a young teen, I was comforted knowing that both my biological family and my PVB family were there for me.  They helped me get through one of the hardest times in my life. My amazing PVB teachers have taught me many important life lessons, including respect, discipline, patience, and perseverance. I’ve learned that you can accomplish just about anything if you work hard enough; that performing with passion can put smiles on people’s faces or tears in their eyes; and that bringing life to music through dance is one perfect way to feed the soul.

Grace Downey in Beauty and the Beast

Grace Downey, center, in Beauty and the Beast, spring 2019.

I have so many wonderful memories of my years at PVB. One of my favorite memories is of going into the studio before a performance to practice putting on stage make-up. This was something that my friends and I looked forward to. I also remember the amazing (and somewhat anxious) feeling of being told I had the role of Clara in The Nutcracker.  That was one of the most exciting times in my life and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity. The most cherished memories I hold, though, are the daily conversations in the dressing room before class, the jokes shared with teachers, the hugs after a final performance. All of the things that made PVB so special every day are what I will take with me forever.

Photo of Grace Downey, friends, and instructor at Pioneer Valley Ballet

Grace Downey, second from right, with fellow dancers and Co-Artistic Director Maryanne Kodzis at the PVB studios.

As I move on to the next chapter of my life, I will bring with me those memories, as well as the skills that I have been taught and the many lessons I have learned. I will be attending the University of Massachusetts – Boston in the fall, pursuing a degree in Psychology, so that I can one day help people that have struggled with mental illness as I have. And I hope to continue fueling my passion for dance for many years to come.

Grace Downey in PVB's The Nutcracker 2018

Grace Downey in PVB’s The Nutcracker, 2018.

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