From USC to NYC: Local Ballerina Makes it Big
USC native Emily Kikta has found her calling dancing at Lincoln Center in New York, but, before that, she was just a USC gal with high hopes.
If all the world’s a stage, Upper St. Clair native Emily Kikta is set to perform. She’s danced her way from Pittsburgh to New York, meeting challenge after challenge in pursuit of her dream.
And, she said, she’s only just begun.
Emily, 19, is a professional ballerina in the corp de ballet of the New York City Ballet. She received her contract offer from the company in June 2011, after an apprenticeship which lasted approximately eight months.
As a professional, she danced a soloist role in the company’s Sept. production of Ocean’s Kingdom, a ballet scored and spearheaded by music icon Paul McCartney, which will be reprised on stage in January.
Emily adds this role to an impressive résumé of numerous others she performed as a corp dancer during both her apprenticeship and her professional contract, such as her corp performance in The Nutcracker this holiday season.
Emily’s other professional projects include an upcoming corp role in DGB and an understudy position in a ballet which has yet to be named, both of which were choreographed by the legendary Christopher Wheeldon.
But before Emily danced under the instructions of the likes of McCartney and Wheeldon, before she graced Lincoln Center, she danced under the tutelage of another great artist whom she admired—her mom.
Emily’s mother, Patti Kikta, is a ballet instructor at Thomas Studio of Performing Arts in Bridgeville, where she has worked for the past 25 years following her receipt of a bachelors of fine arts degree from North Carolina School of Arts.
Patti was Emily’s first ballet instructor, teaching her daughter from age 2 to 13.
“Emily followed me into the studio,” Patti recalled. “I didn’t want to push ballet on her, or make her think that she had to do it because that was what I was doing. I made sure she was also doing other things, like gymnastics, tap and lyrical.
“She was the one who chose ballet when she was 13.”
Emily made that choice after she auditioned for a summer program at the School of American Ballet (SAB) in New York when she was 12. She was accepted into the program, but her mother would not allow her to attend because of her young age.
Instead of being discouraged by her mother’s decision, Emily was encouraged. She was determined to demonstrate to her mother, and to her audience, her commitment to ballet, and did so by dedicating more time to ballet than to other forms of dance.
When she auditioned for SAB’s summer program a year later, she was again accepted—and, this time, her mother gave her the thumbs-up to head off to the Big Apple.
Emily was asked to stay at SAB after completing the summer program, but she and her mother decided against it so that she could attend at least one year of high school before committing to the professional program.
“I wanted her to go to some football games and experience a homecoming dance, to have the high school experience for at least a little while,” said the elder Kikta.
Emily left Upper St. Clair High School in her sophomore year, and was awarded a full scholarship to attend SAB.
She attended a charter school for professional youths to obtain her high school equivalency. After combing her junior and senior years of academic study, Emily graduated with straight A's (the charter equivalent of a 4.0 grade-point-average) one year early.
Her journey to the professional stage, Emily said, was a long and trying one that involved a great deal of time, physical energy and emotional investment—and, these things are all the more intense now that she is a career dancer.
“When you’re younger, dancing is all about having fun,” Emily said. “If you’re’ sick, you can miss a day or slack off a little.
“Now that it’s a job, it’s entirely different. There are no sick days. You have to show up and smile, because there is nobody who can take your place and there are a lot of people counting on you, both on the stage and in the audience.”
As hard and exhausting as professional dancing is, Emily said it’s even more rewarding. She enjoys bringing joy and excitement to the audience; being involved in a variety of dance projects with talented dancers, choreographers and musicians; and learning on a daily basis.
On the academic front, Emily continues to learn as a part-time student at Fordham University.
She is the youngest and only-daughter of four children, with three older brothers, each of whom graduated from Upper St. Clair High School, where they all played football. Emily’s father, Tom, is a classical guitar professor at Duquesne University. She has used some of his original music in dance program projects in the past.
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